Diagnostics Never More Important than Now

Knowing exactly what is going on in your herd will help producers to identify specific diseases and protect their pigs against those diseases, writes Jo Alumbaugh for Farms.com.
calendar icon 8 December 2008
clock icon 7 minute read

Multiple disease agents in the swine population coupled with tight profit margins make it more important than ever for producers to have an accurate health profile of their herds. While vaccines are an added cost, they can save you thousands of dollars in the face of an outbreak. By knowing exactly what’s going on in your herd, you can identify specific diseases and protect your herd against those diseases.

There are several good diagnostics laboratories in the United States and Canada, but because I live in Iowa and work in Ames, I’m most familiar with the work being done at the Iowa State University Diagnostic Lab.

According to information at its website, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University (ISU) was founded in 1879 as the nation’s first public veterinary college and holds the longest record of continuous operation in the United States. It has developed an international reputation for diagnostic services to the livestock industry and for research on infectious diseases of food animals, particularly pigs, since Iowa leads the U.S. in pork production.

“Livestock health is the core of our mission and the basis for all we do,” says Patrick Halbur Professor and Department Chair of the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Our emphasis is on animal health and production, as well as disease. We integrate a variety of disciplines to effectively address the research needs of producers and consumers, provide veterinary students with knowledge, skills and problem solving abilities needed in production agriculture, and offer professional practice skills to the livestock industry of the state and nation.”

He continues: “The results include new ways to quickly identify diseases, the development of vaccines or other strategies to prevent disease, improved production programs for livestock operations of all sizes, and new veterinary graduates who are well prepared to serve the livestock industry with animal health and production strategies for the 21st Century.”

Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine's mission is to attain the highest standards of excellence in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine through teaching, research, extension and professional practice programs that benefit animal health and welfare, support livestock and poultry production and enhance the environment shared by animals and humans.

The diagnostic lab has become a trusted partner for practicing swine veterinarians. There are numerous examples of how the lab has linked veterinarians to high quality diagnostic services and research teams to establish best management practices for control of important animal health issues, notes John Thomson, DVM, Dean of the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Through world class research programs and state-of-the-art technology, dedicated diagnosticians are developing rapid solutions for “real world” animal health problems.

A changing pork industry plus new diagnostic tests and other technology has made managing and communicating diagnostic information a more critical aspect of swine veterinary practice. As the pork industry has evolved, diagnostic information has become more important than ever to swine veterinarians and their clients.

“As swine veterinarians, our role has continued to change over the past 15 years,” says Steven Dudley, DVM, Veterinary Medical Center, Worthington, Minn. “A primary role that continues to be at the forefront of our skill set is our ability to manage and analyze diagnostic information.

“As veterinarians we are constantly graded or evaluated based on our ability to not only diagnose disease problems and to implement effective control programs, but we are also looked upon to clearly communicate and manage diagnostic information,” he continues. “With a changing swine industry, our ability to communicate not only with owners but also middle managers and workers makes this a challenging job.”

Technology and computerization have allowed swine veterinarians to do a better job of managing diagnostic information, believes Dudley. The use of PCR (“polymerase chain reaction” is a technique used in molecular biology for copying a piece of DNA), serology, dendograms (a “tree” diagram that shows a hierarchy and the relations of subsets in a structure), and genotyping or strain evaluations help veterinarians fully characterize disease problems.

“Many disease pathogens are cyclical and if they have been identified within a certain farm or flow they are likely to appear again when conditions or management levels allow them” says Dudley.

Most veterinary clinics increase disease surveillance efforts during times of historical peak problems. Increased surveillance, such as PRRS serology and PCR testing, will typically increase in December through April due to the typical breaks of PRRS during these months. Diagnostic evaluation should be based on the following three factors: 1) Will diagnostic information help eliminate the disease; 2) Will it change the protocol used to treat and control the disease; and 3) Is it important to specifically quantify the disease in question.

If diagnostics are necessary, the veterinarian works closely with the client through a direct line of communication on the protocols taken. This should include the diagnostic results, what was identified and what, if any, changes will be implemented based on new information obtained.

“The ability to clearly and concisely communicate this information to the producer will continue to be a practice-building skill,” emphasizes Dudley.

Last year, Newport Laboratories created a valuable tool to help swine veterinarians and producers in diagnosing major swine diseases. The “Swine Disease Diagnostic Manual” is a 36-page, full-color publication containing information on 19 major swine diseases, necropsy instructions for various stages of production, and guidelines on diagnostic sample submission.

The primary focus of the manual is disease information. For each of the 19 diseases covered, the book includes pictures of affected tissues/areas, clinical signs, stage of production during which the disease generally appears, how it is diagnosed, and what specimens to submit to the diagnostic laboratory.

Necropsy instructions for both nursery and grower/finisher pigs are included, with photos to demonstrate each step in the process.

The book also includes a section on diagnostic sample submission. Twenty-two diseases/conditions are listed, with proper specimen selection, sample preparation, and laboratory procedures given for each one. Diagnostic sample submission forms, including both traditional and molecular-based diagnostics, are included as well.

Manuals can be ordered directly from Newport Laboratories (for $29.95 plus shipping) by calling 1-800-220-2522.

As Dudley points out, veterinarians are evaluated on their ability to communicate the information they identify through diagnostic work on the herd. This evolution to “full-service” assistance creates a partnership between veterinary clinics, diagnostic labs and producers. In many cases, animal health companies are also partners in this process. Their constant quest to improve the products and services offered to producers has made them an integral part of the management team.

More expert advisors and supporting resources are available than ever before, but farm owners and managers should also strive to learn more about swine diseases and their symptoms. By doing so, they are better equipped to know the early stages of a disease problem, and when diagnostic work is necessary.

December 2008
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