FMD simulation exercise in Scotland. Mistakes were made.  Lessons must be learned

The article in the Scotsman, copied below, describes some "minor blips".  Mistakes are bound to have been made, and should be one purpose of the exercise, provided we learn from the mistakes.  It would appear that there are, indeed, some important lessons to be learned from this exercise.  It would be helpful if Defra would circulate an official report to all stakeholders.  I draw your attention to the final paragraph:

The exercise ended at 5pm yesterday. Charles Milne, head of the state veterinary service in Scotland, said response had
been positive and rapid, using lessons learned from 2001, but
blips included the airline charged with taking virus
samples south for analysis refusing to accept them and a delay in tracking down some officials.

"Blips"?  This is far more serious, and requires explanation and assurances that in the event of a real infection, the virus will be rapidly identified and that the key officials, or their seconds, can be contacted and functioning without delay.

Here are some questions and comments based on the press report:

1.  If an airline, or other means of transport, refuses to transport the samples for lab analysis, presumably to Pirbright, this must be a good argument for making portable PCR tests regionally available.

2.  The "delay in tracking down some officials" - what officials were these?  Were they officials that should have played a key role?  Who was involved in this exercise?  Who was not involved, but should have been?  Is there a contact list of "second in command" officials?  Were they involved in the exercise?

3.  "
Precautionary movement restrictions were put in place on all farms within an eight kilometre radius of the suspect and a
press officer seconded."
  See my comments below on possible spread.  Would it be sensible to be more precautionary either by extending the radius of movement restrictions initially, or implementing more up-to-date technology that can allow for real-time management?

4.  "The simulated case was confirmed at 9am yesterday, with a senior official sent to London to brief Defra."  What is meant by "confirmed"?  This report indicates that the disease was "confirmed" on clinical diagnosis.  An index case requires laboratory confirmation.

"Theoretical valuation and slaughter of the 163 cattle on the farm - burial or burning still the options - was carried
out as representatives of every stakeholder group met in Edinburgh.
"  Two points here:

a. There is a good case for immediate slaughter of cattle that show clinical symptoms, but is valuation and slaughter the priority, for which all the stakeholders need to meet in Edinburgh on day one, while other, perhaps important, "officials" were not "tracked down"?  The efficiency regarding valuation and slaughter consultation must be extended to all aspects of this exercise.

b. How many of these 163 cattle showed clinical symptoms?  If the number is large, depending on the strain, plumes of infection could be significant.  Were modelling techniques of plumes of infection used in the control measures?  This could be linked by computer, as in point 3 above, to allow for real-time management.

6.  "The state veterinary service tracked down all vehicles and people recently on the farm as well as other potentially infected sites using the cattle tracing system."  Two questions here:

a. What is meant by "recently"?  Was it a one-day, or (preferably) a five-day trace-back?

b.  What system was used for sheep, or were no sheep present on the "other potentially infected sites"?  How helpful is the exercise if sheep are not involved?

7.  "Vaccination would be considered if FMD spread, but that would depend on the virus strain."  Three points here:

a. "if FMD spread" - determination of the spread must be a top priority, and justifies the wide use of portable PCR tests linked to computer databases with geographical and meteorological data. 

b.  Since knowledge of the characteristics of the strain is essential to determine its method of spread, and since identification of the strain requires lab analysis, any delays in transporting the samples rapidly to the lab will have serious consequences.  What was the reason for the refusal by the airline?  What measures can be taken to ensure this would not occur in a real case of possible infection?  Note that if portable rapid PCR tests are used, there would be more certainty about the presence of the virus. How long does it take to identify the virus strain once the samples have arrived in the lab for analysis?

c.  Would vaccine readiness be put in place immediately upon identification of the strain, or only after a decision was taken based on the spread?  Who would make that decision?  Would advice be taken from the permanently operational "expert group"?  When would the vaccination teams be notified?

8.  Was the permanently operational  "expert group" involved in the planning and in the exercise itself?  Did this include vets, FMD experts, meteorologists, and an independent emergency management engineer?

Is there an official report for stakeholders to review? Is there a full report for the Expert Group to review? 

Is there a report on the simulation exercise that took place in Wales on 30 September?

Mary Marshall
Animal Health Policy Adviser
European Livestock Alliance
7 October 2003