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Rapid Response Corps poised to investigate transboundary swine disease outbreaks

The US pork industry learned a big lesson after the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) outbreak in 2013.

“We didn’t have anyone to investigate these PED cases and try to figure out how it was being transmitted from herd to herd,” reported Derald Holtkamp, DVM, Iowa State University. “As a consequence, it spread through the US very quickly.”

Today if a transboundary outbreak like PED occurred, the situation would be quite different. A Rapid Response Corps of trained swine health specialists would immediately drive to the outbreak and begin an investigation. Their goal: find the source of the disease and halt or slow its transmission.

Response members sought

“Our target is to get about 40 people in the Rapid Response Corps,” Holtkamp said. “We’ve selected a number of veterinarians from different parts of the country. We took a regional approach so people can avoid airports and are close enough to drive.”

Other members of the response team include epidemiologists, academics, and state animal health officials. All members must go through a training course and pass a quiz. Anyone may apply. Holtkamp and Iowa State University (ISU) developed the program with the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC).

The impetus for development of the Rapid Response program started with Paul Sundberg, DVM, director of SHIC.

“He wanted the industry to develop this capability to go out and rapidly investigate cases of a transboundary disease,” Holtkamp explained. “One of the things we were all challenged with (during the initial PED outbreak) was it wasn’t anyone’s job to investigate.”

Biosecurity gaps targeted

Holtkamp and ISU were experienced with disease investigations before being asked to develop the Rapid Response team. They conducted porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) investigations for the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

“When we go out to do these investigations, we’re looking for the gaps – what were the likely ways (the disease) was transmitted to cause the outbreak,” Holtkamp explained.

What they learned from the PRRS investigations is being applied in the Rapid Response program. They use a standard approach and template for an investigation, which among other things will include risk events involved in a particular outbreak.

For example, employee entry and cull-sow removal were the risk events most likely causing the PRRS outbreaks in 8 of the 17 cases investigated by ISU.

“Our goal really is to identify gaps, things they can do in the future to reduce the risk of another outbreak,” Holtkamp added. “I think we must continually try to improve our biosecurity, not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of the industry.


Posted on June 5, 2018

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