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University of Maryland

School of Medicine, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Join Forces on New Initiative to Address Key Agricultural Security Issues

The University of Maryland School of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have undertaken a new initiative to address security in two key agricultural sectors–foreign animal diseases and food security.

The new program, announced by the Governor’s office of Homeland Security, will involve the use of mathematical and statistical models to develop prevention and vaccination strategies, predict casualties, and address the needs of affected populations if a harmful pathogen were to be found in livestock.

Dr. David Hartley, an assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, will work with a team of researchers to analyze Rift Valley Fever, a virus afflicting livestock and cattle in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The virus generally causes flu-like symptoms in humans, and on rare occasions can cause blindness. In addition to the human impact, if the virus were to be found in U.S. cattle, the nation’s livestock industry could suffer tremendous losses.

Dr. Hartley’s research, funded at $210,000 to the School of Medicine, will play a key role in the federal Homeland Security Centers of Excellence Initiative. He will be responsible for developing all of the mathematical and statistical models for Rift Valley Fever– one of the top diseases generating concern among federal agriculture officials.

“Governor Ehrlich directed public safety and health agencies to prepare for a multitude of threats,” said the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security Director Dennis Schrader. “Scientific research is essential to understanding how to prepare for bio terrorism.”

Using mathematical modeling techniques, Dr. Hartley will be able to analyze the speed of infection and geographic disbursement, which are key elements in designing and implementing vaccination and quarantine measures.

“Mathematics and statistical models would be important tools for informed decision making if we were dealing with rapidly multiplying pathogens, in order to act quickly to protect the public’s health,” said Dr. Hartley.

As with many forms of biological hazards, terrorists could attempt to introduce harmful animal pathogens from other sources around the world. Knowing how such a pathogen might spread after its introduction would be critical in the preparation and response phase of such an emergency management scenario.