A Year in Review: Swine Health Information Center Outputs in 2016

In January of 2016, Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) executive director Paul Sundberg emphasized, “We don’t know what the next threat will be, but coordinated disease monitoring and targeted research investments to minimize the impact of future disease threats is the focus of SHIC’s 2016 initiatives. Our goal is to be as ready as possible to handle the next threat, and we look forward to accomplishing great things in the upcoming year.”

True to his word, Sundberg gathered and guided the experts he needed to deliver key outputs across four main categories of the SHIC mission: Preparedness, Response, Monitoring, and Analysis.

“Education is key to preparedness,” emphasizes Sundberg. “It’s interesting as you look at the behavior flow of veterinarians visiting our website, www.swinehealth.com,” says Dr. Sundberg. “As you would expect, they truly zero in on educating themselves and any information on new disease. As we’ve announced our new fact sheets on disease, swine veterinarians got online and read them. As we publish webinars on SVA, swine vets are participating.”  In 2016, SHIC produced nine additional swine disease fact sheets, bringing the total number of fact sheets to 33.

Thanks to research funded by SHIC, we now have preliminary proof of concept that viruses like FMD and others could potentially enter the US through the feed. “It is a risk and we need to be prepared,” adds Dr. Scott Dee, from Pipestone Applied Research, Pipestone Veterinary Services. “This is information that affects not only our organization but also cattle, sheep, goats, dairy. This is a 16-billion-dollar disease that we don’t want.”

SHIC initiated the first phase of creating a nationwide operational disease preparedness with the Rapid Response Corps (RRC) project. “We’re building something unique with this program,” said Dr. Derald Holtkamp, Associate Professor of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University, who is spearheading the research efforts behind the RRC project. “Our goal was and is to create a nationwide network of veterinarians, animal health officials, epidemiologists and others who share our desire to move quickly when a new or emerging disease threat occurs.”

In cases of high morbidity/high mortality, where an etiology is either not identified or there is a strong supposition that the identified pathogen is not the likely cause of the outbreak, there may be a need for further diagnostic workups. SHIC’s support for these follow-up diagnostic workups comes after producers fund the initial investigation and it has been determined that further work needs to be done to ensure that an emerging disease is accurately identified.

From these diagnostics, a novel Sapelovirus, causing morbidity and mortality via CNS infection, has been identified through SHIC helping more producers and their veterinarians solve outbreaks from unknown causes. In another case, Pasivirus was detected by Next Generation Sequencing in sera samples.  While this was interesting, a caveat is that merely detecting a novel virus with molecular techniques in a sample is not definitive evidence for disease causation.

In addition, SHIC-funded Senecavirus A research results were presented during three interactive webinars, which are now archived at www.swinehealth.org. The education was important, but that is not what is on Sundberg’s mind these days. “It’s one thing to experience the cost of SVA entering a farm due to a biosecurity breach, it would be another to become complacent with SVA and for us to miss the entry of FMD into the US pork industry because they clinically look the same and could easily be confused,” emphasizes Dr. Sundberg.

Speaking of diseases we do not want in the US, over 13 countries have participated in monitoring surveys communicating with the Monitoring and Analysis Working Group. These surveys highlighted international concern for PRRS, PEDv, Influenza and other swine diseases.

In 2016, SHIC research also focused on the ability to detect swine pathogens, using platforms that are commonly available in the U.S. major veterinary diagnostic laboratories, such as PCR testing.

SHIC is the primary source of funding for the veterinary diagnostic laboratories of Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of Minnesota, and South Dakota State University to work with Clemson University to standardize the way that they report their diagnostic laboratory swine testing results. According to one of the participants, this project will provide the foundational elements necessary to support the needs and demands of the 21st century pork industry in North America.  When completed, the results of the project will be offered to the other veterinary diagnostic labs that do swine work for improved national coordination.

“The development and use of such data standards and electronic messaging has been largely limited to a finite number of reportable disease applications within the USDA’s National Health Animal Laboratory Network (NAHLN),” explains one of the project’s collaborators, Dr. Rodger Main from Iowa State University.  He adds, “Seamlessly integrating diagnostic data from any number of veterinary diagnostic laboratories into third-party database applications for further analytical and reporting purposes has long been recognized as a critical element necessary for being able to proficiently detect, monitor, respond to, and control diseases of significance in the US swine industry.”

The Swine Health Monitoring Project currently involves approximately 40 percent of the sows in United States for monitoring economically important pathogens. A data management program is being developed to collect, collate, analyze and report data from various sources to create value for producers. In the short term, this project contributes to the control and prevention of important swine diseases. In the longer term, this builds the industry’s capacity for data collection, organization, and capability to facilitate response to emerging pathogens.

“SHIC is committed to helping the pork industry respond more quickly and efficiently to swine diseases. It is committed to researching the biggest existing threats to swine health so that the U.S. will be better prepared to respond to these diseases through better diagnostics and information,” says Sundberg.

“We want to be ready. SHIC is organizing us, preparing us, and identifying holes in our readiness. With SHIC, we aim to be proactive verses reactive!” emphasizes Sundberg.

“SHIC is driving novel research and initiatives,” encourages Dee.  “That’s what we need. . . a center that can help us with decision making once research is completed.”

The mission of the Swine Health Information Center is to protect and enhance the health of the United States swine herd through coordinated global disease monitoring, targeted research investments that minimize the impact of future disease threats, and analysis of swine health data. For more information, visit https://www.swinehealth.org or contact Dr. Paul Sundberg at [email protected].