January 28, 2006
 

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Posted: 03.01.05

Airport of Champions

When it comes to containing disease, the USDA isnít horsing around.
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By Phillip Britt




Championship horse racing is a multibillion-dollar sport that keeps racehorses circling the globe in competition for prestigious titles and high-paying purses. From the Dubai World Cup to the Japan Cup and the well-known U.S. Triple Crown, horse owners can earn millions and thrill countless racing fans, but the constant travel and interaction can expose the horses to disease.

If a horse carrying a disease as highly contagious as foot-and-mouth were to enter the country, the affect on
the economy could be devasting. An outbreak could hurt exports as well as the use of domestic livestock, says Dr. Robert Southall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) area veterinarian in charge of Florida animal health and plant inspection service. The USDA monitors animals as they enter the country, regardless of where they are from. Miami (in addition to New York and Los Angeles) is a major entry point for horses, and its airport boasts a five-acre quarantine facility (that in Setember grew from 35 to 80 stalls) where the animals are held until their health is confirmed.

Stalling for Time

Upon arrival, all horses are tested for disease. While blood tests are analyzed—a task that requires three to seven days—veterinarians are charged with maintaining the horses’ health. Historically, this meant that veterinarians equipped with clipboards and pens had to note specific health-related information for each horse, three times a day. Because the value of the racehorses is so high, however, it has become increasingly important to capture the information in a way that it can be immediately shared with veterinarians and technicians throughout the facility. Dr. Southall wanted a way to catch diseases at their earliest stages, as the earlier diseases are caught, the better able veterinarians are to treat them. The USDA contacted Reston, Va.–based SI International, a provider of information technology and network solutions, in search of a solution.

SI International recommended a data capture and analysis solution that would track each animal’s health and alert veterinarians in the event of a threat. It developed a handheld application, which runs on Microsoft Windows CE .Net 4.2 software and operates on the Pocket PC 2003 platform, for the USDA’s automated quarantine examination center. Dr. Southall’s staff runs the application on HP iPAQ H5550s and Recon 400 Pocket PCs.

The system went live in October 2004, and now vets enter health information into the application after each examination. The application includes a series of drop-down menus to limit the amount of typing, and among the menus is one for early alerts with keywords indicating particular problems. The information remains on the device until it’s placed in its cradle, after which it is downloaded and stored in an Enterprise Oracle Data Repository. The database is an extension of the Online Animal Reservation System Database in Ft. Collins, Colo., which lets animal owners reserve a space or check for availability.

A Web-based Automated Quarantine Examination System application was set up on the facility’s intranet so vets can access relevant information in the database. The system can also be accessed via an Internet browser from any desktop on the USDA Veterinary Services Network, enabling users to create or edit import arrival sheets, stall import sheets and quarantine reports (release, refusal and contagious equine metritis reports) among other tasks. “We eliminated 95 percent of the paperwork,” Dr. Southall says.

Dr. Southall hopes to extend the system to the export of animals, which has its own sets of rules, as well as tie in similar facilities, so animal owners can receive automatic referrals to other facilities if Miami’s is booked. He also foresees a wireless monitoring system, which would eliminate the need to cradle the handheld to transmit health information, enabling treatment to start that much sooner.



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