News from the National Pork Board

Real-time swine health surveillance: Why do producers need it and what is the practitioner's role?

If you were a swine practitioner in the late 1980's, you most likely experi-enced feelings of frustration and helplessness when you encountered "mystery swine disease" in your clients' herds. You probably contacted other practitioners and several diagnostic laboratories to see if otherswere seeing a similar clinical picture and what they were doing to try to minimize producer losses. There was no system at that time, or to this day, to detect the occurrence of a newly emerging disease or provide information on its scope. Without such a system, it is not possible to have a coordinated and timely effort by producer associations, practitioners, the research community, diagnostic laboratories, and government animal health officials to addressemerging health situations. Well-defined clinical syndromes, such as postweaning multi-systemic syndrome and porcine dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome,have continued to emerge in US swine herds without a coordinated effort to develop an appropriate response.

There has been recognition of the need for a coordinated, comprehensive, and real-time surveillance system for domestic and emerging swine diseases in the United States. The Swine Futures Project (SFP), a multi-year government-industry partnership, began in 1996 to develop recommendations for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to meet the future needs of the pork industry. The SFP team consisted of Dr Eric Bush, an analytical epidemiologist with Veterinary Services (VS) Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health; Dr Beth Lautner, vice-president of Science and Technology with the National Pork Board; Dr Jim McKean, an extension veterinarian at Iowa State University; and Dr Larry Miller, a senior staff veterinarian with VS's Operational Support. Numerous focus groups, site visits, meetings, and surveys were conducted with pork industry stakeholders to gather ideas and information. Many AASV members served on an Oversight Committee that provided direction for this project.

Two of the SFP key recommendations were to develop and implement a comprehensive surveillance plan for the prevention and control of diseases affecting the US pork industry and to establish a system to rapidly detect and respond to emerging animal diseases. As a result of this project, the pork industry has been chosen as the first commodity group to work with USDA to developa comprehensive, integrated diseasesurveillance system for domestic, emerging, and foreign animal diseases. The USDA has committed resources toward the development of this system. Pork producers also must devote significant personnel resources to work with USDA to ensure that a workable system of relevance and importance to producers is developed.

A recent example of the potential value of an effective surveillance system would have been early detection of the erysipelas cases seen in the summer of 2001 in the midwest. A combination of surveillance tools, including a review of slaughter condemnations and practitioner and diagnostic laboratory reports, would have provided information so that producers and veterinarians could have implemented preventive measures.

Emerging animal diseases may include new disease agents, known diseases re-emerging, or recognized disease agents with changes in presentation. We currently rely on practitioners and diagnostic laboratories to identify emerging diseases, but there is no organized group to consider this information and make a conscious, collaborative decision as to an appropriate response. The USDA has recently initiated an Emerging Issues Tracking System for USDA personnel to report unusual disease situations.

To work in partnership with USDA to developa swine disease surveillance system, the National Pork Board has committed checkoff resources to create a new position, Director of Swine Health Programs. Dr Mark Engle has recently been named to this position. Key activities include:

  • Understanding VS's perspective on surveillance, emerging animal diseases, foreign animal disease exclusion, and animal identification;
  • Providing a liaison between industry, government agencies, practitioners, and diagnostic laboratories;
  • Assisting in coordination of activities to meet industry needs in the areas of surveillance, emerging diseases, and identification; and
  • Communicating the progress of this collaborative effort to producers, veterinarians, and diagnostic laboratories.

In the very near future, practitioners will be invited to participate in the work of developing this real-time swine health surveillance system. This system is needed to ensure the long-term viability of pork producers and to allow the US pork industry to remain competitive internationally.