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DelVal University stages mock animal disease outbreak


Several Delaware Valley University students donned protective white suits and surgical gloves on a recent chilly Saturday to experience firsthand what it takes to respond to a disease outbreak among animals.

The mock event, with participation from Dr. Linda A. Detwiler, the USDA’s acting veterinarian-in -charge, was staged at the university’s Roth Farm in North Wales.

“The primary goal of the USDA is to prevent the entry of foreign animal/ zoonotic diseases,” said Dewiler. “We are committed to educating students who may someday be faced with these challenges. “

A mock outbreak, Detwiler explained, “provides them the opportunity to experience how the USDA, our state and industry partners respond.

During the exercise, the selected students with majors in zoology science, agriculture education and business, developed questionnaires to take a history of a farm, learned how to prevent the spread of diseases by using strict biosecurity measures and how to take samples for testing and estimate the costs of an outbreak, noted Detwiler, a 1980 DelVal graduate.

“The mock disease outbreak was really interesting,” said Autumn Heidenthal, a zoo science major at the university.“You know it is going to take a lot of precautions, but the mock scenario helped me realize the depth of the process.”

Fellow student, Joshua Bethard, agreed. “It was a good opportunity to practice how we would simplify what we were seeing and communicate the science to the public to keep people safe,” he said. The agriculture education student took on the role of public information officer during the mock outbreak.

Dr. Jennifer Shelly, associate professor of animal biotechnology and conservation at DelVal, joined in the exercise.

“There are some things that simply cannot be taught in a classroom, some things that we cannot truly understand until we live through it ourselves,” she said.. “This is the beauty of experiential learning.

“It is my hope that this mock disease outbreak will show them how they have acquired the necessary skills to deal with such an emergency. In the past, their desire to help may have been outweighed by their feelings of being powerless, removed, and insignificant.”

It’s an experience such as the mock outbreak, she noted, that “helps students realize that their actions matter. Their knowledge, their words, their presence, their choices have an impact. And hopefully, they use these newfound superpowers for good. “