Ebola, Rift Valley fever, and foot-and-mouth disease.
For the past decade, the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), a part of AgriLife Research and a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence, has conducted research to protect our country from these diseases and others. This year brought the Institute’s 10-year anniversary as well as a name change: It had previously been known as the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense. The new name (the acronym IIAD is pronounced “Eye-Ad”) reflects the organization’s increasingly international approach toward research, education, and outreach.
“We live in a global society where animal diseases do not recognize national borders,” said Dr. Tammy Beckham, director of IIAD, in a press release. “To ensure the safety of our food supply, the continuity of trade, and the health of animals and people alike, we must take a global approach to disease testing, surveillance, mitigation, and prevention.”
IIAD focuses on “transboundary” and “zoonotic” diseases because of their high risk to animal and public health. Foot-and-mouth disease is a transboundary disease: a highly contagious disease that can spread rapidly across international borders. Ebola and Rift Valley fever are zoonotic diseases, which can spread between animals and humans. The first human patient in an Ebola outbreak likely becomes infected through contact with an infected animal such as a bat or a primate.
Ebola is a rare disease, but the current epidemic in West Africa is the largest in history. After that outbreak resulted in an Ebola case in Dallas, Gov. Rick Perry announced the creation of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response. Beckham is among the task force members.
Ebola is a particularly high-profile example, but approximately sixty percent of animal diseases can infect humans. Seventy five percent of emerging infectious diseases can infect both animals and humans.
Most of the diseases that IIAD studies are not native to our country, says Beckham, so the Institute works internationally to study these diseases and help control them in countries where they are located. For example, the Institute is working to develop and ultimately conduct a foot-and-mouth-disease vaccine field trial in a country where the disease is endemic. International partnerships are making that possible, Beckham says.
Partnerships have allowed the Institute to accomplish much with a staff of only 18 people. IIAD develops vaccines and diagnostics; collects, analyzes, and distributes data; and conducts various training programs. It works with industry groups, educational institutions, and state, federal, and international organizations, among others. IIAD recently became a Collaborating Centre for the World Organization for Animal Health.
IIAD’s anniversary on November 13 gave the Institute a chance to celebrate its successes with many of its partners. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several state animal health officials are currently piloting IIAD’s suite of software tools called AgConnect. The software suite includes mobile applications to enable veterinarians, producers, and state and federal authorities to monitor an emerging disease or disease outbreak in near-real-time. AgConnect aims to provide decision-makers with the information needed to quickly identify outbreaks, limit the spread of disease, and protect the livelihoods of producers.
IIAD has large goals for its second decade. The Institute plans to strengthen its ability to fight emerging diseases, working to develop better detection and surveillance tools. It will continue to build partnerships in animal and public health around the world.
“Our strength is in our ability to bring together networks and expertise to address the critical challenges facing both animal and public health sectors today,” Beckham says. “We have had a tremendous first decade and look forward to the next ten years.”