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Vets play an important role in responding to disasters but, says Sebastian Heath, they could play a more significant role by shaping society‘s attitudes to animals and by disease mitigation and preparedness
THROUGHOUT the centuries veterinarians have played critical roles in disasters. After several decades of large-scale disasters involving animals, recent events such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti, the Korean foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, tornadoes and oil spills in the USA and many other less publicised events mean it is timely to review the critical roles veterinarians play.
In a generic sense, disasters are shocks to social and economic systems, where, temporarily, the need for resources outstrips their supply; if people or animals are not affected we usually do not think of the event as disastrous. In most natural and technological disasters the shock is typically the result of a sudden destructive event, such as an earthquake, inclement weather, or exposure to an infectious disease agent, hazardous material or radiation. For these types of disasters the scope of the impact can usually be defined quickly and the response is rapid, supporting the desire to return to the status quo as quickly as possible. In biological disasters, such as an outbreak of contagious disease, the scope of the event is often not known at the outset and the immediate response is often clouded by debates over how best to respond, which can be perceived as inaction.
Since large-scale disasters are rare and their timing often unpredictable, they have been shrouded in myths. Misconceptions also predominate common descriptions of what happens with animals in disasters and have reinforced a limited, albeit conventional, view of the role of veterinarians. Hence, to better understand the …