Swine Health Information Center: Preparing for emerging diseases

Whether the issue is an emerging disease such as porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) or the threat of African swine fever (ASF) today, being prepared is key to minimizing the potential impact on the US swine herd and expediting the recovery. For the past 5 years, Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) has taken up that mantle.
calendar icon 7 August 2020
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Swine Health Information Center: Preparing for emerging diseases

SHIC: PED caught US unprepared

SHIC: Preparing for African swine fever

When PED surfaced in 2013, it would have seemed impossible to think that anything positive would come from it. Yet US swine health has benefitted from its many harsh lessons, along with the industry’s commitment not to be caught unprepared again.

“PED taught everybody a lesson about communication, cooperation and coordination,” Paul Sundberg, DVM, SHIC’s executive director, told Pig Health Today.

Among the positive outcomes was the 2015 creation of SHIC, which is designed to address emerging swine diseases on both the international and domestic fronts. It’s lead mission is to monitor swine-health developments and trends to identify challenges that might be heading for US herds.

Another objective is to identify and fund targeted research to be better prepared for emerging diseases. Sundberg again pointed to PED: “When we heard about it in May (2013), everybody wanted to know ‘what is it and how do we address it?’ We had to do a lot of research really quickly.” Now the focus is to anticipate and conduct research across a range of swine-health areas to be better prepared.

Enhanced communication and coordination

SHIC is charged with analyzing and sharing swine-health data to enhance industry communication, which Sundberg cited as one of the center’s more satisfying accomplishments in its 5 short years. “When we started, the major veterinary diagnostic laboratories (VDLs) for pigs — University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, South Dakota State University and Kansas State University — all had different systems for reporting their results,” he said.

That meant anyone who wanted to gather all the diagnostic data to look for emerging diseases faced a near insurmountable task. Now those laboratories report and communicate their results in the same manner, which vastly improves tracking and analysis. For example, if something surfaces in Pennsylvania and the samples are shipped to the VDL at Iowa State, it can easily be compared to developments in Georgia that are being tested at Minnesota’s VDL.

“Instead of something being viewed as a one-off, the data is all put together and we can look for specific things,” Sundberg said. “The center’s really working to help coordinate our response — make sure we’re ready.”

A rapid response is key

The importance of a coordinated and rapid response is yet another lesson that transpired from the PED outbreak. The swine veterinary community established what is now known as a rapid response corps to investigate how the PED virus was infiltrating farms. The point was to assist the farm but also to gain knowledge about a new disease to share more broadly with the industry.

While the concept was solid, the response wasn’t rapid, Sundberg added. The logistics of getting rapid response corps members where they needed to be could take a week or two. But that has changed.

“Now we’ve signed up veterinarians, diagnosticians, epidemiologists and animal scientists from all over the country, in six different regions,” Sundberg noted. The objective is to get an investigator on a farm, anywhere in the country, within 72 hours after they’re invited. In the end, that kind of response impacts the reach of disease transmission and, ultimately, recovery success.

Expanded ASF research

Today, all eyes are on ASF and how to keep it out of the US, but also to bridge the knowledge gap surrounding the virus. “It’s similar to PED, that if we get ASF we want to know the lessons without having to wait to be able to respond,” Sundberg said.

To that end, SHIC secured a grant from the Foreign Ag Service to collaborate with the swine sector in Vietnam on two objectives. One is to establish educational programs to assist the country’s producers and veterinarians in their response to ASF. The second involves on-farm research projects that will help the Vietnamese and the US learn how to manage and apply various tools to address the disease. For example, a building can be cleaned and disinfected following ASF exposure, but a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test will still test positive. “The test doesn’t tell you if it’s a dead virus or a live virus; it just finds a piece of the virus,” Sundberg noted. “We want to try to figure out how we can disinfect and neutralize the virus, so we get a negative PCR.”

The project also will evaluate virus viability associated with management practices such as baking time for animal trailers and, in collaboration with the National Pork Board, mortality composting and manure pits.

Another significant study, supported in part by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and USDA, will test oral fluids as a surveillance mechanism for ASF. Currently, the only method approved by either agency is to draw and test whole blood from live pigs. Oral fluids would be much easier for producers from a logistic, cost and efficiency standpoint.

“Those are just some of the lessons that we’re trying to learn before ASF gets here,” Sundberg said.

Don’t be complacent

Sundberg’s take-home message on swine-health issues is, “Don’t be complacent, and don’t assume you know what you have,” he said. “Always get professional help because making an assumption will leave whatever it is out there (to circulate) longer.”

He emphasized that SHIC also offers support if a producer or veterinarian reaches a diagnostic dead end. “We don’t want to let things drop and give an opportunity for an emerging disease to happen simply because somebody didn’t have funds to continue looking,” Sundberg added. “Be inquisitive, and don’t ever assume…because we’re here to help figure out what’s going on.”

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