Can we find the ‘next PED’ before it finds us?
Paul Sundberg, DVM, recalls sitting around a conference table in San Diego in spring 2013, talking with other swine veterinarians about a new pig disease burning through China at the time.
“We all said, ‘Boy, it’s a good thing we don’t have it.’ And then we went away,” he told Pig Health Today.
A month later, USDA reported the first US case of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus — a bug that went on to kill more than 7 million pigs by the next year, according to published reports.
“We can’t do that anymore,” he said. “We’ve got to be prepared for…something else to get in here, to be able to detect it, to have the diagnostic capabilities to look for it, and to be able to respond.”
Lurking quietly among us
Sundberg has since become executive director of the Swine Health Information Center — a 3-year-old collaboration between the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and producer groups to direct resources and expertise toward swine-disease prevention.
So far, he says, the group has identified and ranked 44 viruses, according to potential impact and likelihood they’ll break here. Topping the list: foot and mouth, swine fever, a return of pseudorabies and new types of influenza A.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom that new diseases tend to be foreign, the next disease to impact the industry as harshly as PED is probably an emerging disease that’s already here but currently isolated.
Case in point: Seneca Valley virus. Five years ago, it existed in the US but accounted for only about five cases annually. “In the fall of 2015, we all of the sudden went up to 100 to 200 cases a year,” Sundberg said..
Another candidate that bears careful watch: Kobuvirus, which is related to Seneca Valley and is now working its way through China, following in the somber tracks of PED.
Holes in the wall?
Making sure the US is prepared to catch, contain, control and convalesce from the next outbreak is hampered by the scope of US agriculture and the diversity of tools used to protect it.
Tackling such a mammoth health-security task takes a combination of active and passive surveillance — that is, respectively, disease monitoring that reaches into the field to look for suspect invaders and disease monitoring that sifts the data already coming in from diagnostic labs.
Right now, the US disease-surveillance system suffers from an inability of the 60-some large, national diagnostic labs and the hundreds of smaller labs to speak to one another in the same language.
“They might all use the same tests, but…there’s not a coordination of reporting between one laboratory and another,” Sundberg explained. Sometimes, in fact, coordination can be as simple as putting data in the same field of a spreadsheet.
Swine Health Information Center’s mission supports those labs in standardizing and coordinating their data, to give producers, veterinarians, researchers and regulators access to meaningful information.
“Thousands of samples are coming into these diagnostic labs,” he said. “If we’ve got something going on in one…and not in another, we won’t know it unless we can put all that information together and look at it collectively. Where there are holes, we start filling in the holes.”