“Worms, Germs, and You”: Use of an On-Line Interactive Program for Zoonotic Disease Training in the Zoo Environment
In July 2006, Disney’s Animal Programs implemented an on-line training program to ensure cast members (employees) possessed basic knowledge of zoonotic disease biology and prevention techniques. The program was developed through a partnership with members of Disney’s veterinary services, safety and health, and operations learning and development teams in conjunction with the on-line training development company Get Thinking, Inc. (www.getthinking.com) (VIN editor: link not accessible on 1/20/21). The program includes animated and narrated components as well as self-examination of key points required for completion of the training.
The program is delivered in two parts. The first part is an introduction to zoonotic diseases targeted to all employees working within animal areas on the Walt Disney World property. This includes traditional zoo and aquarium environments as well as a ranch facility. Teams required to complete this training may include, but are not limited to, animal husbandry, veterinary, aquarium, life support, ranch, education and science, facilities and engineering, and custodial. The inclusion of facilities and engineering and custodial staff came at their request since members of these teams spend large amounts of time working in or near animal areas.
The introduction to zoonotic diseases includes an overview of basic disease biology, mechanisms of disease transmission, keys to disease prevention, and a summary of current processes and protocols. Much of the emphasis of the introduction is placed on the “keys to prevention,” a series of tools/rules that provide protection for employees working with or near the animals. These keys include understanding at-risk people/groups, proper hand washing technique, proper use of protective equipment, ways to avoid insect/vector exposure, and rules about avoiding animal contact unless required by the job. Specific disease examples are used to emphasize key prevention techniques.
The second part of the training is an advanced course designed specifically for husbandry staff (keepers, managers, aquarists, etc.) working directly with animals. These staff members are required to satisfactorily complete the introduction before moving on to the advanced component. Each member of the husbandry team is assigned a training program based on the category of animals they interact with on a regular basis. These categories include cetaceans, fish, primates, reptiles and amphibians, hoofed stock and pachyderms, rodents and other small mammals, carnivores, birds, and bats. Specific diseases are reviewed for each animal group using a standardized format and include disease summary, disease reservoir, animal signs/symptoms, human symptoms, and route of transmission, at-risk group, and specific prevention techniques. Self-learning exercises are available as a component for each animal category.
Since its inception, the zoonotic disease online training tool has been “launched” to more than 1000 employees. It is a convenient tool that can easily be customized for each individual employee. The on-line platform has many benefits including the decreased use of professional/trainer personnel, increased employee training compliance, increased access to commonly requested information, and increased enjoyment of training activities. We feel this program has not only met the requirements of AZA accreditation for employee zoonotic disease training, but has also greatly increased the knowledge, safety, and comfort of our employees working with or in close proximity to animals.