Bioterrorism Preparedness

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Bioterrorism Preparedness

Bioterrorism can arise in many forms and has the potential to affect not only human health, but animal health as well. The AZA Animal Health Committee as well as the Veterinary Scientific Advisory Group the and Biomaterials Scientific Advisory Group recognize that a bioterrorism event could impact animal populations cared for in AZA-accredited zoos or aquariums. In an effort to proactively plan for such an event, AZA-accredited institutions are required to maintain current bioterrorism management plans that ensure staff are educated about potential agents of concern, preparedness, communication strategies, and traceback procedures. 

Potential Agents of Concern

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Office of International Epizootics, and United States Department of Agriculture have developed lists of potential agents of concern, several of which are listed as foreign animal diseases or are present on the list of notifiable diseases for numerous states. Specific state veterinarian and regulatory information can be found at APHIS / USDA National Center for Import and Export and factsheets about several of the more common diseases of concern are provided:


AZA accreditation standards require trained personnel to conduct daily observations of all animals, follow extensive preventive medicine protocols, carry out routine health examinations, and enforce strict Quarantine procedures. These high standards of animal care facilitate early recognition of disease conditions that might appear. Continuing education programs, which include the recognition of bioterrorism agents, help ensure a raised level of vigilance by animal care staff.

Communication Strategies

The development of strategies designed to guarantee communication among the administrative, veterinary and animal care and public relations staff is critical and should be elucidated via an institutional biohazard emergency contingency plan for each AZA-accredited institution. This plan may include press release templates and specific local media contacts that are assured to handle the release in a responsible manner. In addition, ongoing communications should be maintained with local and state public health and veterinary officials, including the Department of Health, State Veterinarian and the USDA.

Traceback Procedures

In any bioterrorism event, it is important that trained animal care staff collect baseline data that can be used to trace the origin of the introduced agent. Optimal traceback procedures require numerous resources that AZA accredited institutions already possess, including quality up-to-date management and medical records, qualified animal care and veterinary personnel, and detailed standard operating procedures.