Advocacy in action
Emerging disease, emerging solutions

As evidenced by the 2013 outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), emerging diseases can have a dramatic effect on swine health and pork production. “Emerging” disease is a broad term for the appearance of pathogens or syndromes not previously known to be causing disease in the national swine herd or the recognition of a significant change in clinical presentation of an endemic pathogen. Either of these scenarios has the potential to impact animal health and well-being, trade, production parameters, food safety, and human health.

Our ability to rapidly recognize and implement an appropriate response can have a significant impact on the outcome of a disease outbreak. The effectiveness of our ability to recognize and respond is largely dependent on our preparation, including acknowledging the existing threats and having a mechanism in place to identify and address known resource gaps. In order to be prepared for future emerging diseases, we need to identify potential sources of information; capture, coordinate, and research that information; and, finally, act on the information. Let’s first discuss the numerous sources of information available to us.

A number of years ago, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) and the National Pork Board (NPB) established the Sentinel Veterinary Clinic program. In an effort facilitated by the NPB and Iowa State University’s Center for Food Safety and Public Health, a group of select veterinary clinics meets by phone with representatives of the key diagnostic laboratories on a quarterly basis to discuss clinical observations and diagnostic submissions of interest. This was the first coordinated effort to establish a systematic approach to recognize emerging disease syndromes within the national swine herd. This program arose out of an outbreak of erysipelas that spread through the Midwest, resulting in significant increases in morbidity and mortality. Samples were being submitted to multiple laboratories by multiple practitioners, but we were slow to realize the significance and distribution of the disease. This outbreak might have been averted if a system had been in place to facilitate communication between practitioners and diagnostic laboratories.

Although veterinarians, producers, and the diagnostic laboratories responded quickly to the PEDV diagnosis in May 2013, discussion about PEDV circulation in China had been going on in various forums for quite some time prior to the virus actually entering the United States. Unfortunately, there was no formal system in place to gather that intelligence and do anything about it. The AASV, NPB, and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) are taking steps to change that.

In 2014, the AASV Swine Health Committee was charged with evaluating and prioritizing a list of all known swine viruses and identifying resources needed to diagnose and respond to each disease if it should be introduced into the North American swine herd. The first phase of this on-going process has been completed, resulting in development of a swine virus matrix. This matrix provides an initial prioritization of the viruses and outlines the key resource categories that need to be addressed to facilitate response planning.

The AASV and pork producers are collaborating with the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases at Texas A&M University to develop a Web-based syndromic disease surveillance application for practitioners to use in the field. Termed Enhanced Passive Surveillance (EPS), this project will ultimately provide a coordinated electronic system by which practitioners’ data can be securely and confidentially combined with other observations and laboratory data to facilitate early recognition of emerging syndromes of consequence to the US swine herd. An EPS pilot project should be underway by the time you read this article.

In addition, numerous AASV members, pork producers, researchers, allied industries, and government officials have formal and informal contacts providing insight into global swine-disease challenges. Researchers and diagnosticians around the world frequently publish informed reports on diseases impacting swine herds in their countries. Anecdotal reports often provide a real-world glimpse into the diseases circulating in domestic and international herds. These reports need to be captured and investigated.

All of this provides a potential wealth of information if we can find a way to coordinate it and channel it to the right people. That’s where the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) comes in. The SHIC has been under discussion for about a year and is now coming to fruition. The NPB Board of Directors recently committed to a one-time investment of $15 million spread over the next 5 years to fund the SHIC.

The center’s objectives are threefold. First, the center will monitor foreign and endemic disease risks and vulnerabilities by collecting swine-disease risk information from, among others, the sources outlined above. This information will help inform producers and veterinarians about emerging swine-disease risks. Second, the center will fund and manage research to fill knowledge gaps identified in the swine virus matrix. This will focus resources in a prioritized manner to provide the tools necessary to diagnose and respond to emerging diseases. Third, the center will support epidemiological analysis of emerging swine diseases and coordination of domestic swine herd-health information to support international trade of US pork products.

The SHIC leadership is a collaborative effort involving AASV, NPB, and NPPC. Each organization has two representatives on the SHIC Board of Directors. Drs Matt Anderson and Daryl Olsen represent AASV. In addition to those six members, there are three at-large producer members (Mark Schwartz, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; Mike Terrill, Burnsville, Minnesota; and Matthew Turner, Clinton, North Carolina). The objectives of the center are designed to complement, and not duplicate, the efforts and responsibilities of the three organizations.

Now that we have collected all this information and directed resources to identify and address gaps in our knowledge base, how do we act? The decision to respond or not is again a collaborative one. It involves state, federal, and industry coordination. The NPPC is working to stand up a collaborative board similar in design to the Pseudorabies Virus (PRV) Control Board that functioned to provide input on program standards during the PRV eradication effort. The idea would be that this board would evaluate emerging disease issues and strive to offer response guidance on the basis of a consensus of impacted stakeholder groups.

All of these efforts will serve to increase our readiness for the next emerging disease that threatens the swine industry. Preparedness is the key to success. As the author Stephen King once said, “there’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.1


1. King, S. Different Seasons. New York, New York: Signet (division of Penguin Group); 1982.

--Harry Snelson, DVM Director of Communications