Disease outbreaks can be daunting and can quickly overwhelm a shelter’s resources. When there is a greater number of infectious disease cases or more severe clinical signs than expected, a shelter needs to respond promptly. All shelters should have a written outbreak management plan that staff are familiar with and that details specific actions to be taken. The plan should account for the shelter’s resources and ability to provide care during an outbreak.
The primary goal of outbreak management is to create a break between the unexposed population and the infected/exposed population. Effective management includes the following steps, which often occur simultaneously or in rapid succession:
- Diagnosis or recognition of the disease
- Isolation of sick animals
- Quarantine of exposed asymptomatic animals
- Risk assessment in exposed animals
- Creation of a clean break to prevent further exposure
- Environmental decontamination
- Effective documentation and communication
This sample Parvovirus Response Plan illustrates how shelter staff can manage a population of dogs in response to an outbreak. This plan includes most of the steps listed above, but to maintain the clean break, strict biosecurity measures must be in place. These measures include proper sanitation and appropriate use of PPE, which will help to prevent transmission to susceptible animals. Everyone in the shelter plays a key role in recognizing signs of infectious disease, especially in the face of an outbreak.
The decision of whether to treat infected animals when an infectious disease is diagnosed can be challenging. This Resource Assessment Tool will help shelters work through the important considerations. If your shelter is facing an outbreak and needs assistance with management or you would like to develop protocols to prepare for an outbreak, the Shelter Medicine Services team is available to consult. Head to this form to request consultation services.
Resources & Downloads
- The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) Guidelines & Shelter Checklists
- Infectious Disease Treatment Resource Assessment Tool
- UF Disease Outbreak Management in Shelters
- Disease Outbreak Management 101 Webinar
- Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters, 2nd ed.
- Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff, 2nd ed.
Last Reviewed December 2023