Module 5: Management and Prevention of Disease Outbreaks
Proactive transparent communication about a disease outbreak in the shelter and the control strategy being used provides an opportunity to disseminate accurate information to shelter staff as well as community stakeholders such as adopters, rescue groups, and veterinarians. Proactive communication averts spread of rumors and false information, improves the shelter’s image, and enlists public support and trust.
Communication to Shelter Staff
A written statement containing the following information should be disseminated to all shelter staff, including directors, managers, and public information officers. Don’t keep your staff in the dark!
- What is the pathogen?
- What are the signs of infection?
- How is the pathogen transmitted?
- What animals are most at risk for infection?
- What is the containment or management strategy? (this should be a brief overall summary)
A written protocol containing the operational details of the management strategy and staff roles should also be provided to each staff member, regardless of whether they are directly tasked with implementing the protocol or not.
Communication to the Community
Press releases are official public statements to promote specific, significant information. These are used to disseminate accurate, appropriate, timely information to internal and external stakeholders and the news media to improve communication transparency and efficiency. A press release containing pertinent facts about a disease outbreak and the shelter’s response should be released to media sources, community veterinarians, and pet placement partners. Here is the basic information to include in a press release:
- Diagnosis of the pathogen
- Description of the disease
- Number of affected and exposed animals
- Number of deaths, if any
- The management strategy (big picture, not minute details)
- Shelter services that are temporarily discontinued (admissions, adoptions, transfer to rescue groups, healthcare clinics, etc)
- What resources are available to help the community during discontinuation of specified shelter services
- What organizations are providing expertise and assistance
- What the community can do to help
- What can pet owners do to protect their pets from the disease
Press releases are typically one-pagers for rapid consumption and use terminology that is easily understood by people without medical training or knowledge.
Ask for Help
Consulting with infectious disease experts is another important component of communication, especially when dealing with an outbreak that cannot be diagnosed with routine testing, outbreaks with high morbidity/mortality, and outbreaks with unusual clinical signs. Reaching out for help should be done before deciding on drastic measures such as depopulation. Asking for help early in the course of an outbreak favors a more positive and successful outcome and saves lives.
The UF Shelter Medicine Team works with shelters across the country that are struggling with disease outbreaks. There are other shelter medicine programs at veterinary colleges that also offer programs designed to assist shelters with outbreak response:
University of Florida Shelter Medicine Program
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University
University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program
Help is out there! Shelters just need to ask.
Here are stories from some of the shelters that have reached out to the UF Shelter Medicine Team for guidance with their disease outbreak. You will see how they executed the basic steps in the disease management strategy, the life-saving outcomes, and the lessons learned.