Better disease management would have cut £20m from FMD losses

The cost of the UK’s 2001 foot and mouth outbreak would have been £20 million less if adaptive management methods had been used, according to new UK/USA research findings.

The research team behind this claim is critical of disease outbreak responses which are too wedded to pre-set plans, making it more difficult for officials to react in real time to what is actually happening on the ground.

“Organisations involved in the outbreak of disease should be able to change approaches as new information becomes available,” said University of Nottingham lecturer, and research team partner, Dr Michael Tildesley.

“In the early stages of a new disease outbreak there is often insufficient information to make a decision regarding the best control policy. At the same time policy makers cannot afford to delay until that uncertainty is resolved before introducing interventions. Adaptive management provides a mechanism for introducing control at the onset and then using information gained during the outbreak to determine the most effective long term management action.”

For the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, the research team note that culling decisions during the outbreak were contentious, with many farmers feeling they were being penalised for being in the vicinity of infected farms, when they believed that they were not at risk.

The researchers’ view, is that adaptive management would have initially employed a less severe approach, reducing the number of cattle culled, by relying on real-time updates to modify responses. More severe culling would then only have been recommended if justified by the spread of the outbreak.

Putting their conclusions into a 2014 context, they added that current efforts to prevent or stem the spread of disease are still falling short because of “confusion and limited information about disease dynamics”. Adaptive management, on the other hand, would “allow researchers to use the knowledge gained during an outbreak to update ongoing interventions with the goal of containing outbreaks more quickly and efficiently”.

The research, which was carried out by specialists at the University of Nottingham and Pennsylvania State University, was published in the academic journal PLOS Biology.

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