FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Bulgaria undertakes animal disease outbreak simulation

Exercise aims to keep Foot-and-Mouth disease virtual

First the bad news:  animal health experts visiting a Bulgarian cattle farm confirm the suspicion: the animals have been infected. Now the good news:  it’s not real. The experts are here this week for a simulation exercise on Foot-and-Mouth disease, being conducted in Balkan countries. 

A group of 60 people – veterinarians, animal health experts, and animal health service staff – continue their exercise at the farm, rapidly and thoroughly executing the required coordinated actions to manage a case of Foot-and-Mouth disease. They are in the midst of a two-day simulation exercise, within a full-scale training series organized by the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (EuFMD), whose secretariat is based at FAO headquarters in Rome, with the assistance of the Danish Emergency Management Agency and the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.

This is part of an EU-supported effort to help the Balkan countries bolster their capacities for responding to a possible outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth disease, one of the most contagious animal diseases and one with severe economic consequences. Although Western Europe is officially virus-free, the disease still persists in the surrounding area (Southern Mediterranean, Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe).

“Simulation exercises are an effective means to identify weaknesses that could result in disastrous consequences in a real crisis,” said EuFMD animal health officer Fabrizio Rosso, “and to bring attention to the need for investment in preparedness in an area constantly at risk of FMD incursion.”

The simulation exercise challenges participants, in their roles with the national or regional veterinary offices, to respond correctly to a possible outbreak of the disease. In addition to coordinating local actions and control measures, the veterinary offices are constantly challenged by simulated incoming calls and inquiries from European and international institutions, national and local media, farmers associations and industry representatives, and by a range of other difficulties that could arise.

Today’s activities take place on a cattle breeding farm in southwestern Bulgaria. Without harming the animals, experts and members of the local veterinary service walk through the measures and use the special equipment for ensuring biosecurity. They discuss the procedures for culling animals, disposing of carcasses, and performing disinfection of the premises.

Most domestic livestock species, including cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats, are susceptible to Foot-and-Mouth disease, while the disease is generally most severe in cattle and pigs. Even wild animals can be infected. All of these domestic and wild species are present in Bulgaria and could be involved in an outbreak. Socio-economic losses from an outbreak can be enormous, hampering the export of livestock and livestock products all over Europe. The negative impact of an outbreak could last for years.

In many countries it is likely that few if any animal health workers have direct, first-hand experience with the disease, as Foot-and-Mouth disease may never have occurred in their country, or has been exotic for a considerable period.

The European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease, with European Union support, has already trained about 500 veterinarians across Europe in immediate response capability, but this week’s exercise in Bulgaria is part of an activity specifically targeting Balkan countries.

“The cooperation of Balkan countries is important for improving mutual assistance and regional capacities, both essential to avoid the disease spreading across borders in a complex territorial situation,” said Keith Sumption, executive secretary of the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease.

24 June 2015, Konyavo, Bulgaria