Making a Disease Alert System a Reality

The EDCC will provide accurate information and real-time alerts when disease outbreaks occur. Photo: Kevin Thompson/ In 2010 the American Horse Council (AHC) and the USDA initiated creation of the National Equine Health Plan to improve

The EDCC will provide accurate information and real-time alerts when disease outbreaks occur.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/

In 2010 the American Horse Council (AHC) and the USDA initiated creation of the National Equine Health Plan to improve the health and welfare of horses in the United States and prevent diseases from causing economic disruption in the equine industry, which can result from quarantines and decreased horse transport due to fear of disease spread. One of the plan’s critical parts is development of a communication system capable of alerting all industry members in the event of a disease outbreak. An American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) task force recommended creating the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC). Similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for human diseases, the EDCC will serve as the official source of information about equine infectious diseases and provide real-time alerts when disease outbreaks such as the neurologic form of herpesvirus infection occur.

What are the EDCC’s Goals?
The EDCC will ensure that up-to-date, accurate information about disease outbreaks is accessible to all horse industry members. As part of the National Equine Health Plan, the EDCC will also help educate owners about endemic and foreign animal disease and promote related research.

How Does the EDCC Work?
Organizers have established a communication protocol to coordinate all those who are involved with providing disease outbreak information. Working in cooperation with state animal health officials and the USDA, the EDCC will seek information about current disease outbreaks by reviewing official state and federal reports, along with reports from news media, social media, and veterinary practitioners. In addition, representatives at an official call center will process messages and answer questions about current disease alerts. Representatives will send information about possible outbreaks to the EDCC office, where officials can investigate these reports and confirm or label them as rumor. If the EDCC confirms an outbreak, representatives will post data about it on the website immediately and send e-mail messages to all state animal health officials and horse organizations. They will also thwart false rumors of disease outbreak or spread by disseminating accurate information. The Center will post daily updates until each outbreak is contained or deemed no longer a threat.

What is the Benefit of the EDCC?
In response to the 2011 equine herpesvirus outbreak associated with the cutting horse event in Ogden, Utah, which resulted in 425 horses exposed in 19 states, 142 horse shows and events were canceled in California alone. The damage to the horse economy was estimated in the millions of dollars from horse loss and event cancellation. Other outbreaks at shows and equine hospitals have caused similar losses due to fear of disease spread. Rapid dissemination of accurate information on outbreak status and how to stop disease spread will help free unaffected parts of the industry from the paralysis that can occur when Internet rumors falsely amplify the problem. Even if the EDCC circumvents a small percentage of the inaccurate messages by providing factual information about the cases and risk to unaffected horses, the investment in establishing and maintaining the EDCC will have been worthwhile.

What is the EDCC’s Current Status?
Several members of the equine community have volunteered to help make the EDCC a reality. The EDCC call center will be located at the United States Equestrian Federation’s headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky. The call center is set up to answer questions and direct messages to the EDCC office at the AAEP, also in Lexington. Necessary personnel include a veterinarian serving as the EDCC administrator to coordinate information from state animal health officials and resulting alerts for current outbreaks and diseases. A communication specialist will coordinate and post the messages about confirmed disease outbreaks.

Funding to support the costs of the office and personnel are needed to bring this plan to fruition. The AHC has appointed a fundraising steering committee seeking donations from all segments of the horse industry. Tax deductible donations will be made to the AAEP Foundation and earmarked specifically for the EDCC operations. The estimated annual cost for a functional EDCC is $100,000—a small price for a real-time information source that will help improve the health and welfare of horses.

Nathaniel A. White II, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, is professor emeritus of equine surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, in Leesburg, Virginia.

Originally published in the August 2014 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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