By the time this message goes to print, mandatory reporting of clinical cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) and other swine enteric coronavirus diseases (SECD) under the federal order issued in June will be in full swing and hopefully going smoothly. But as I write this, reporting is in its infancy, and several of the program details are still being defined. The veterinary diagnostic laboratories have just started forwarding information from cases positive for novel swine enteric coronavirus to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Laboratory Messaging System (LMS).
It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, though my hope is the process will be streamlined such that it can easily and efficiently become a routine procedure that provides value to the industry. It is essential that data compilation be complete and in a format that can be sorted and evaluated so that we are able to glean as much information as possible from this exercise. As with any database, the information that can be extrapolated is only as robust as the data that is entered. Veterinary diagnostic laboratory personnel are uploading the positive cases into the LMS, making the burden of reporting much lighter for veterinarians and producers. However, we all have a responsibility to follow up on these cases and do our part to compile the rest of the relevant information, including the clinical picture on the farm. Cooperation across the industry is essential to the significance of the outcome of this program.
While it is unfortunate we did not start collecting the data sooner, this program still has the potential to provide valuable information about the transmission of PED virus (PEDV), if not the likely point source of introduction. This exercise will demonstrate the importance of our national biosecurity program and diagnostic laboratory communication system, as well as highlight the programs and data-management systems that are essential to our success. It will also help to identify shortcomings that must be corrected or advanced prior to the introduction of the next transboundary or foreign animal disease. Furthermore, this program may enlighten us on how to minimize the spread of infectious organisms throughout the national swine herd, a critical task should we ever be faced with a foreign animal disease that must be eradicated promptly.
In addition to highlighting and mitigating risks associated with transmission of swine enteric coronaviruses, this program may also encourage the development and improvement of technologies that will assist in identification, tracking, and monitoring of infectious disease risk and site status. Existing mapping programs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their potential functionality and applications. Fully integrated information systems are the way of the future and my hope is this federal order will help fund and facilitate the further development and implementation of this applied information technology so that we may more efficiently and effectively evaluate disease-risk parameters in the future.
While these mapping programs are instrumental in aiding development of local and regional health plans and monitoring protocols, it is important to remember that we live in a global society. We must maintain awareness of international disease threats and be prepared to identify them, both clinically on the farm and definitively at the diagnostic laboratory. It is essential that we be vigilant in monitoring herds for clinical signs of diseases that are considered threats globally; veterinarians truly are the first line of defense on matters involving the health of our nation’s livestock herds. It is also imperative that our diagnostic laboratories be equipped with the necessary tests and primers to readily diagnose diseases considered to be global risks.
In addition to the clear devastation caused by this disease and the opportunities PED has given us for improvement, there have also been many benefits that have already been realized. This virus has given us the opportunity (and I would even go so far as to say the obligation) to work together as an industry and as a profession. Staff members and officers of all three key swine associations (National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians) have never worked more closely together than they have on issues stemming from this transboundary disease since its introduction in spring 2013.
In fact, the vast amount of time AASV staff has spent on PED-related activities and the breadth of those activities calls into question whether or not the scope of our mission matches that breadth and, if not, whether our mission statement should be revised or labor resources should be redirected. Today,
it is the mission of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians “to increase the knowledge of swine veterinarians by
• promoting the development and availability of the resources which enhance the effectiveness of professional activities,
• creating opportunities which inspire personal and professional growth,
• advocating science-based approaches to industry issues,
• encouraging personal and professional interaction, and
• mentoring students, encouraging life-long careers as swine veterinarians.”
One could easily argue that staff time devoted to PED has been an effective means of “advocating science-based approaches to industry issues.” The question becomes whether or not the allocation of time on that particular bullet point is appropriate – be it too little or too much. Regardless of your perception of whether or not the quality and quantity of time spent on PED-related issues is appropriate, it is clear that Tom, Harry, and Sue have had much more added to their collective plate, and yet nothing has gone undone. When you voice your opinions on our mission and how PED and other emerging diseases fit into the context of that mission (and I hope you will), please also take the time to let our AASV staff know how much you appreciate all they do on behalf of swine veterinarians and our association – they certainly deserve the accolades.
In addition to thanking our association’s staff, we should also, as an industry, be encouraged by the collective amount of PED research that has been conducted in the past year. There was virtually no clinically relevant information available when herds first became infected with PEDV in the United States, but thanks to industry funds (company, private, and Pork Checkoff) and tireless efforts of industry personnel, we have assimilated a significant amount of information in a relatively brief period of time. With funds allocated in the federal order, we will be able to build on this growing database to provide the necessary information to manage this disease in the most effective way possible.
As with any new disease, we have become acutely aware of our vulnerabilities through our challenges with PED and other emerging SECD. We have also already capitalized on many of the opportunities presented to us through collaboration and research. My hope is we will use the federal order to assimilate more information and improve industry infrastructure. This disease introduction has demonstrated to us the need for improved national and international biosecurity programs and fully integrated data-management systems so we are better prepared to identify, contain, and eliminate the next pathogen that enters our country. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how AASV can and should play a role in the next emerging disease situation.
Michelle Sprague, DVM