Local News

N.C. Leads Nation In Bio-Security Preparations

Posted January 16, 2002

— Great Britain has declared that its battle against the highly-contagious

foot-and-mouth disease

is over.

The epidemic has cost the country an estimated $2 to 3 billion, and millions of animals have been destroyed.

Despite this news, the disease is still a major threat elsewhere.

"The world picture of foot-and-mouth disease is still pandemic. Basically, it is in every continent except North America and Australia. It is basically all over the world," said Tom McGinn, North Carolina's assistant state veterinarian.

McGinn said that the disease can find its way to North America, and North Carolina, in any number of ways including on travelers' clothes and luggage and in the form of terrorism.

"It's very easy for a terrorist to use a virus," he said. "It's low-tech and it doesn't cause a threat to their existence. So they are much more likely to use something like that that would cause billions of dollars in damage and ruin our economy."

That has officials in North Carolina assessing risks and hiring terrorist experts.

"It is a wildfire that you can't see. [The virus] will jump fire lines in ways that, well, it'll spread quicker than anything we can imagine," McGinn said.

North Carolina leads the nation in agriculture bio-security preparations.

"The challenge will be getting ahead of it and having state-of-the-art abilities to do that, and that is not where we are yet," McGinn said.

North Carolina's security and response plans are being used as models by government agencies all hoping a major foreign animal disease will never happen here.

McGinn keeps a bag of dust from the World Trade Center towers on his desk as an important reminder.

"These bags remind me that what we don't think is possible to happen will happen," he said.

There are still restrictions on British meat due to mad cow disease, which should not be confused with foot-and-mouth disease.


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