News and Updates

Building Our Defenses: Protecting Humans and Animals from Disease Outbreak

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Just hearing the names African swine fever, avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease or Rift Valley fever can set most people on edge. If you think about the repercussions of an emerging, transboundary or zoonotic disease infecting the human or animal population of United States, it makes your hair stand on end. Wait, infecting both humans and animals? Yes that is what a zoonotic disease is: one that can be transmitted between animals and people.

Today, most of the pathogens affecting animals are zoonotic—75% of them to be exact. While it is impossible to protect ourselves from every disease, there are researchers working to build our defenses, with some of them headquartered right here at Texas A&M University.

The National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZD Center) is part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence. The FAZD Center works with international, federal and state partners across government, academia and industry to perform research and develop products focused on high-consequence animal diseases.

The veterinarians and research scientists working with the FAZD Center focus on early detection, diagnosis, prevention, response and recovery from emerging, zoonotic or transboundary animal diseases.

Early Detection
Using Mobile Tech for More than Texting

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Mobile technology lets users record animal health data using the Biosurveillance Field Entry System.

Controlling the spread of a disease outbreak is contingent on the ability to detect it early. And what’s the quickest way to share information across the state or even the nation? Mobile technology. In collaboration with the Texas Center for Applied Technology, a Center within the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the FAZD Center has created a surveillance tool that uses a mobile device to record animal health observations. The Enhanced Passive Surveillance (EPS) system is designed to record and assemble animal health data from livestock producers, veterinarians, diagnostic laboratories, markets and wildlife. While a single incidence of a sick animal may have little meaning to one veterinarian, learning that several neighboring ranchers are seeing the same problem may indicate a trend. Early identification of these symptoms can help animal owners and state officials protect our animal populations. In 2014, the EPS program expands from three pilot states to 15, and reaches out to major animal industries, including swine, equine, cattle, sheep, goats and poultry. This advanced technology has the potential to revolutionize animal disease detection and response.

Diagnosis
Combating New Threats with Fresh Solutions

With increasing global trade and worldwide travel, we are exposed to more and different diseases than ever before. This means new tools and technologies are constantly in demand to protect agriculture and public health. Through its biological research, the FAZD Center develops disease screening tools, vaccines, diagnostic assays, and universal sample preparation/preservation platforms for diseases such as African swine fever, Rift Valley fever and foot-and-mouth disease. The FAZD Center is working with researchers to develop a test that detects the foot-and-mouth virus (FMDv) in bulk milk samples. The project is a collaborative effort with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Animal Health Laboratory Network facilities, the USDA Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Plum Island, and the Pirbright Institute in the UK. The ability to sample bulk tank milk will help facilitate movement of product off uninfected premises during an FMDv outbreak. This is critical for maintaining continuity of business for the dairy industry, and would help prevent against having to dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk and ensure there is milk on the shelves when you make a run to the grocery store.

Response & Recovery
All You Need to Know in One Place

FAZD iPadDuring a disease outbreak, decision makers can easily become overwhelmed with raw information coming from the news, official updates, spreadsheets, maps and photos. The FAZD Center helps emergency response officials make use of this data by consolidating it into a single, easy-to-use, real-time operating picture using AgConnect. This suite of technology products supports the entire emergency cycle from preparedness all the way to recovery. The suite was originally developed in coordination with federal, state and industry partners, helping to ensure the end product meets user-identified needs.

As some of the most serious diseases known to man threaten our national and global health, it’s not enough to simply respond to outbreaks; we must work to prevent disease spread and ensure preparedness at all levels. The services and solutions provided by the FAZD Center are paramount to food safety, national security and global health. So the next time you read about one of these diseases in the news headlines, remember that the FAZD Center is watching out for you.

To learn more about the FAZD Center, visit fazd.tamu.edu. For more information about zoonotic diseases and how they are transmitted, visit the Center for Food Security & Public Health website.

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FAZD

Founded in April 2004 as a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence, the FAZD Center leverages the resources of multiple major universities, Minority Serving Institutions, national laboratories, and partners in state and federal government.

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