BLOOMINGTON — If zoo animals stay free of disease outbreaks, other animals and people stay healthier as well.
That was an idea behind a daylong infectious disease outbreak response exercise Wednesday at the Illinois Farm Bureau headquarters.
Called Flu at the Zoo, the exercise was attended by 85 zoo superintendents, veterinarians and state and federal regulators from 10 states.
“A zoo is a unique place,” Yvette Johnson-Walker, clinical epidemiologist with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, said during a break in the exercise.
Zoos bring together animals from throughout the world, native wildlife that pass through the zoos, and people who work and volunteer there as well as visitors, Johnson-Walker said.
That creates a concern about spreading disease among people and animals, including livestock and pets. Zoos are in position to detect disease quickly because animals in zoo collections are cared for carefully by veterinarians, observed Jay Tetzloff, superintendent of Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington.
In fact, a Bronx Zoo veterinarian was a key figure in identifying the West Nile virus outbreak in 1999 because she made the connection between deaths of zoo birds, wild crows and people, said Yvonne Nadler, veterinary epidemiologist with Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago.
A national report followed, calling for animal and human health regulators to work together more closely, Nadler said.
The scenario for Wednesday’s exercise was an avian influenza outbreak that affected zoo animals and employees. Exercise participants practiced how to respond to the outbreak and how to keep the public safe and informed.
“This brings us all together so we know who would help us,” Tetzloff said. Tetzloff felt better prepared after Wednesday’s exercise and would be working with zoo staff on minor adjustments to procedures and protocols.
“Everyone’s goal is the same,” Johnson-Walker said. “We want to keep zoo animals healthy, wildlife healthy, people who work at the zoos and the general public healthy and agriculture healthy.”
“We’re all interconnected,” Nadler said.