Professor of Biology and Alumni Professor in the Biological Sciences
Penn State University
Livestock diseases have devastating consequences economically, socially and politically across the globe. In certain systems, pathogens remain viable after host death, which enables residual transmissions from infected carcasses. Rapid culling and carcass disposal are well-established strategies for stamping out an outbreak and limiting its impact; however, wait-times for these procedures, i.e. response delays, are typically farm-specific and time-varying due to logistical constraints. Failing to incorporate variable response delays in epidemiological models may understate outbreak projections and mislead management decisions. We revisited the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic in the United Kingdom and sought to understand how misrepresented response delays can influence model predictions. Survival analysis identified farm size and control demand as key factors that impeded timely culling and disposal activities on individual farms. Using these factors in the context of an existing policy to predict local variation in response times significantly affected predictions at the national scale. Models that assumed fixed, timely responses grossly underestimated epidemic severity and its long-term consequences. As a result, this study demonstrates how general inclusion of response dynamics and recognition of partial controllability of interventions can help inform management priorities during epidemics of livestock diseases.