Pigs on a farm

Voluntary Sharing of Disease Data has Value

Dr. Julie SmithAnimal Health, Livestock diseases, Research

Biosecurity and surveillance are complementary. Health surveillance in human, plant, or animal contexts involves collecting, analyzing, and interpreting health-related data. These data then inform what is done in terms of health programs and strategic communication. National surveillance systems often rely on the reporting of diagnoses of certain diseases to regulatory agencies. However, agricultural industries can find value in sharing animal disease incidence data for diseases that do not require reporting to regulatory authorities.

Swine Disease Reporting

The Morrison Swine Health Reporting Program based at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine arose out of an attempt to determine the incidence of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) among sow farms. This disease is a viral disease of variable virulence that may result in abortions or pneumonia. Although not a nationally notifiable disease, PRRS is the most economically significant disease of the US swine industry. This voluntary, information-sharing surveillance program is unique among animal industries and has been extended to include additional diseases.

The Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) based in Ames, Iowa, extends the efforts of the Morrison Swine Health Reporting Program. The SHIC is funded by US pork producers through the National Pork Board to provide information on disease incursions in the United States and important trading countries around the world in collaboration with existing efforts by other groups and government agencies. Additionally, the center supports the development of testing capabilities and capacity, which are important first steps in surveillance programs. The SHIC emphasizes the diagnosis and reporting of emerging diseases. For instance, Seneca virus A, which is not a reportable disease per se, was of emerging concern in 2018. This disease must be distinguished from reportable foreign animal diseases that have similar signs like foot-and-mouth disease. Through the SHIC, additional epidemiological factors were identified as potentially important in the spread of Seneca virus A.

Testing for African Swine Fever

Some diseases of concern are routinely tested for in samples submitted for other diagnostic tests. This type of surveillance is important for rapid detection of high consequence diseases. With heightened concerns about the vulnerability of the US swine industry to African swine fever, as it became widespread in China after being identified there in August 2018, some in the industry wondered why it wasn’t being tested for in the United States. This concern was raised at the ADBCAP (Animal Disease Biosecurity Coordinated Agricultural Project) Symposium in mid-May, 2019; the very next day, May 16, the USDA APHIS announced it was implementing a surveillance plan for African swine fever.

Producers Benefit from Disease Incidence Data

Surveillance can tell us where a disease is or has been. Biosecurity can prevent it from getting to the next premises. In some cases an ounce of prevention can save a pound of cure. Waiting for a definitive cost-benefit analysis will not result in action because farm situations are always changing. Producers must make use of the available information on disease incidence and consequences, in light of their own production situation and goals to make the best decisions they can. Then they need to make sure everyone on the team is following through. Improvements in access to shared animal disease data that is not required to be reported would be valuable. At the recent symposium, the ADBCAP project team discussed the implications of providing more information as seen in serious game simulations. Please view the recorded presentations if you were not able to attend the symposium in person.

*Heading photo credit: Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner, Wikimedia

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About the Author

Dr. Julie Smith

Dr. Julie Smith is a research professor at the University of Vermont. Julie received her B.S. in biological sciences, D.V.M., and Ph.D. in animal nutrition at Cornell University. Since 2002, she has applied her veterinary background to programs in the areas of herd health, calf and heifer management, and agricultural emergency management. She has taught courses in animal welfare, calf biology and management, and ABCs of biosecurity to undergraduates, mostly in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. As a veterinarian and spouse of a dairy farmer, Julie is well aware of the animal health and well-being concerns of dairy animals. Julie has conducted trainings for Extension educators, livestock producers, and community members on the risks posed by a range of animal diseases, whether they already exist in the United States, exist outside of the United States, or pose a risk to both animal and human health. In all cases, she emphasizes the importance of awareness and prevention. In addition, she has led a number of projects on biosecurity and emergency disease preparedness.