by Renata Snow & G.D.Singh
New day, new theme! Having spent the first few days focusing on population ecology and yesterday looking at the human-wildlife interface, today we switched gears again to learn about disease outbreak investigation.
The morning started with an interesting lecture from Tony (Dr Tony Sainsbury) on how to define a disease outbreak and why it is important to investigate wildlife disease outbreaks – not only can it help wildlife conservation efforts, but it can also protect human and domestic animal health, as well as increase our understanding of epidemiology.
We were then given a case scenario based on a real-life saiga antelope mass mortality event that occurred in Kazakhstan in 2015. We were split into groups to plan how we would respond to the initial phone call telling us that dead animals had been seen. We had to come up with our plans for (a) the first two hours and (b) the first three days, and then present our ideas to the rest of the class for discussion and feedback.
After lunch, we discovered that the course organisers had in fact replicated the case scenario on the hillside behind our hotel, with white T-shirts pinned over bushes and under trees to represent carcases. Each T-shirt was printed with its ‘carcase details’, including age and sex of the animal, any evidence of clinical signs (e.g. fluid coming from nose and mouth; faecal staining around the perineum) and evidence as to the length of time dead (e.g. presence of fly larvae). In our groups, we came up with our own strategies for our ‘disease outbreak investigation’, and spent the afternoon systematically exploring the hillside, taking GPS waypoints at each carcase and deciding how to organise the information we recorded.
After a very welcome chai break (that’s milky spiced Indian tea, for the uninitiated!) it was back to the lecture theatre for a debrief with Tony. We discussed the various factors that need to be taken into consideration when coming up with case definitions and diagnoses, as well as issues related to future testing and carcase disposal. Tony then gave us an introductory lecture on planning for pathological examinations of wildlife, in preparation for tomorrow’s necropsy practical.
All in all, it was an interesting and thought-provoking day and we were definitely left feeling better equipped to plan our own emergency responses and outbreak investigations in future. Huge thanks to all the instructors for their teaching!