Advocacy in action
Comprehensive and integrated swine surveillance

Comprehensive and integrated swine surveillance (CISS) may not be a term you’re familiar with, but hopefully it will be in the not-too-distant future. Historically, disease surveillance in the swine industry has been conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on a disease-by-disease basis concentrating mostly on “program diseases” such as pseudorabies or brucellosis. This approach entails identifying the disease of interest, determining how to access the surveillance samples needed to monitor the necessary population(s), developing sample collection protocols and testing regimens, and, most challenging, obtaining funding to support the surveillance program, which often targets a single disease.

This system does not allow for much flexibility to adapt the surveillance program to focus on additional diseases of interest or address emerging issues for which well-defined surveillance parameters may not exist, such as is the case with newly emerging diseases or poorly defined syndromes. Also, as the industry successfully eradicates program diseases, less emphasis is placed on surveillance for those diseases. Likewise, very little attention is paid to routine monitoring for diseases not known to be present in the US swine herd or for which there is no official control program. In addition, given the current economic constraints, obtaining on-going funding to support narrowly targeted surveillance programs has become increasingly difficult. For these reasons, it became obvious to everyone involved (veterinarians, diagnosticians, epidemiologists, regulators, industry stakeholders, and trading partners) that a different approach was needed.

The AASV, the National Pork Board (NPB), and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) have all been actively engaged with the USDA for a number of years to develop a surveillance program that would be less focused on specific diseases and more comprehensive in scope. The industry has emphasized the importance of establishing a system by which diagnostic samples are routinely collected as part of the normal activities associated with raising hogs and producing pork. Key to this effort would be identifying points in the production flow where diagnostic samples or information can be gathered on an on-going basis without disrupting the normal flow of production.

CISS differs from the existing system in a number of ways. It makes the activity of sample and data collection routine. While ensuring confidentiality, CISS would focus on gaining access to necessary surveillance materials and information that could then be applied to diseases and syndromes identified as key by industry stakeholders. This innate flexibility would facilitate adapting the system to address emerging diseases and identifying previously unrecognized syndromes arising in the US swine herd. Funding issues could be more easily addressed by maintaining a consistent, on-going, routine, broad-based surveillance program, developed and managed with industry support rather than having to justify the necessity for programs targeting individual diseases.

Monitoring for the existence or introduction of diseases of interest is of paramount importance to the swine industry for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which are issues associated with public health and maintaining access to international markets. When it comes to convincing the public about the safety of swine or pork products, or trading partners about the health status of animals and products, the involvement of the federal government is essential. For these reasons alone, having a robust, comprehensive surveillance program is critical. Diagnostic laboratories and state animal-health authorities rely on access to federal and industry funding to support the programs and services they offer stakeholders. A consistent source of funding and resources is critical to maintaining the capability to diagnose and respond to disease issues. Access to these resources is jeopardized when availability hinges on the status of a specific disease. It becomes a case of the “haves and the have-nots.”

The recent pandemic H1N1 outbreak has illustrated the need for more robust animal disease surveillance as an adjunct to efforts conducted within the public health arena. Estimates are that over 70% of newly emerging human diseases are vector-borne or zoonotic. In recognition of this concern, AASV, along with NPB and NPPC, has worked with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and USDA to institute a swine influenza surveillance program which would promote the interchange of novel influenza isolates between the animal- and human-health organizations. A comprehensive swine surveillance system, as envisioned with CISS, would facilitate sample collection, a key challenge to the implementation of a swine influenza surveillance program.

With the current program disease-surveillance model, funding and resources are targeted at specific aspects of the industry associated with a specific program disease, while the rest of the industry may struggle to maintain basic infrastructure to support diagnostic, surveillance, and response capabilities. It is the goal of CISS to re-focus the resource distribution to promote the activities of an on-going, broad-based surveillance program that would support continued sample collection and diagnostic capabilities. Additionally, it would allow for the flexibility necessary to interject analysis for diseases of interest and promote access to information necessary to facilitate the timely recognition of, identification of, and response to emerging diseases and syndromes. Development and implementation of CISS has broad stakeholder and USDA support and we are continuing to work to make it a reality.

--Harry Snelson, DVM