Angus cattle

Clemson Livestock Poultry Health oversees statewide animal health programs that protect flocks and herds, such as beef cattle, which are the sixth most valuable food produced in South Carolina.
Image Credit: Clemson University

COLUMBIA — Animals may not know it, but they’re as threatened by disease as you or I. And these days, those threats may come from anywhere: a common local disease, a re-emerging disease that once was under control or a new one brought in from the other side of the world.

That’s why Ellen Mary Wilson interacts closely with farmers and veterinarians who work daily with farm animals in South Carolina.

“Veterinarians and farmers are a first line of defense for detection of livestock and poultry diseases,” said Wilson, recently named director of Animal Health Programs for Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health (LPH). “They have frequent and direct contact with the animals and can see and detect subtle changes in activities and behaviors that often indicate the presence of disease.”

Wilson oversees regulatory programs that protect the health of livestock and poultry and enable prompt, coordinated response to diseases that threaten South Carolina farm animals.

Clemson LPH focuses on prevention, early detection, containment and elimination of those diseases. It also provides outreach and education to veterinarians and producers on the signs of high-impact diseases.

“Veterinarians across the state routinely manage disease prevention of their clients’ animals and treat livestock individually, or in groups, when an endemic disease occurs,” Wilson said. “But many diseases of regulatory importance are high-impact diseases that cannot be controlled on an individual animal or herd/flock basis and require statewide coordinated response.”

Raised on a family farm in northeast Pennsylvania, Wilson developed a love of animal agriculture and decided at an early age that she wanted to become a veterinarian. Following graduation in 1985 from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, her career has involved the practice of veterinary medicine in university biomedical research, private practice and both federal and state government service.

Previous jobs as the assistant chief of the Animal Health Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and as New Mexico State Veterinarian gave Wilson precisely the experience she needs for her work in the Palmetto State, said State Veterinarian Boyd Parr, director of Clemson LPH.

The programs she oversees range from eradication of specific diseases such as scrapie or bovine tuberculosis, to surveillance of a broad spectrum of diseases and the identification and tracing of animals in the event of a disease outbreak.

Clemson LPH emergency response efforts also involve natural and manmade disasters that may impact livestock health, the food supply and public health.

All of these programs require a firm working relationship with other agencies, veterinarians and farmers.

“A great deal of our effort is spent interacting directly with veterinarians and producers about current laws and regulations, recognition and prompt reporting of potential high-impact diseases, and best management practices to protect herds and flocks from introduction and spread of diseases,” Wilson said. “These discussions also help us prepare for the review and development of state livestock laws and regulations and the development and implementation of national policy.

“Planning for response to disease incursion is a complex and ongoing activity that is essential for effective response to and control of high-impact diseases,” she said.