Editor's note: The following article was originally published in the January/February 2015 issue of PorkNetwork.

The U.S. pork industry learned a hard lesson with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus: Better preparation and protocols are needed to address a national disease outbreak expeditiously and effectively. While information between government officials, industry representatives, producers and veterinarians was shared openly, the lack of a cohesive preparedness strategy contributed to the rapid spread of the disease.

To help ensure a similar scenario doesn’t take place in the future, a working group on emerging diseases has been formed. The group is charged with identifying and ranking potential disease threats to the U.S. pork industry and will work on determining the tools necessary to:

  • Recognize an emerging clinical disease as early as possible
  • Use diagnostic detection
  • Determine virulence and viability
  • Understand effective disinfectants
  • Identify appropriate response to an emerging disease
  • Understand vaccine availability, whether or not a vaccine exists and if not, what research is needed to develop a vaccine
  • Understand virus transmission
  • Determine possible route of introduction into the country

Using the Virus Matrix Exercise
“The virus matrix exercise allows us to acknowledge and understand those viruses that are known to infect swine globally,” says Mark Engle, DVM, MS, who is involved in the working group and provided an overview of the group’s mission at the 2014 Leman Conference last fall. It’s a collaboration between the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), the National Pork Board (NPB), the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The goal is to identify ways in which the various group can work together effectively during the next major disease outbreak.

Ranking the Threats
Several factors are considered in determining which diseases present the most critical threats to the U.S. pork industry. According to Engle, primary consideration is given to a disease’s economic impact to the domestic market, its economic impact to exports; its risk of introduction or re-emergence in the United States, and its zoonotic capabilities.

While the order of the 43 diseases on the list could change overnight, the top eight viral infections, as ranked by the AASV swine health committee are Foot and Mouth Disease, African Swine Fever, Influenza A, Classical Swine Fever, Pseudorabies, Swine Vesicular Disease, Vesicular Stomatitis Virus, and Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Virus. Resource categories for those diseases will include diagnostics, epidemiology, viability, immunity, pathogenesis, traceability, biosecurity, detection and response and global distribution.

The list was developed before PEDv and the Ebola virus outbreaks. Engle feels both would be on the list if it were to be ordered today. “The gaps are in determining virulence and viability and understanding effective disinfectants,” he says, “and if there isn’t a vaccine, this is where the coordination comes in.”

Strengthening the Borders
Dr. Liz Wagstrum, DVM, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council explains that USDA has been working on a pathways analysis as well as an investigation related to PEDv. “In listening to a presentation from USDA, there are mitigations being done in other countries,” she says. “They are looking for the outliers. The other effort with USDA involves going back to some of the first [PEDv-positive] farms that were identified in April or May of 2013 and look for commonalities that would help us understand where PED came from.”

Wagstrum says the group will work to produce a document to take to the U.S. Animal Health Association, then create a clean draft that can be presented at the National Pork Forum in March. Further, the current structure has no government authority, so it will need to be coordinated with federal and state veterinarian authorities.

Step One Completed
Formation of the committee and identification of priorities are the first phase of the project, but much more work is yet to be completed. “Solutions” to curtailing an emerging disease don’t exist at this point, but the key players are involved and they are highly motivated to keep the momentum.

“If we identify the diagnostic needs and we get the funding, there’s no doubt in my mind that we can get it done because we have the best diagnostic facilities in the world,” says Engle.

A “working group” meeting took place in Chicago last summer, and the outcomes were positive: Strengthen international surveillance, monitor published literature, support funding of collaborative international projects, investigate possible routes of Asian pathogens to North America, determine roles for dealing with emerging disease, increase involvement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, involve producers and practitioners in the APHIS/VS partnership.

“We can’t wait to get an action plan together and that’s why it was important to have USDA on this working group,” says Engle. He notes that the Department of Health and Human Services has extensive funding compared to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services/Veterinary Services and the livestock industry needs to help them shift their focus on emerging diseases.

“The amount of funding we have at ARS today is pretty dismal,” says Engle. “Diagnostic funding for emergency diseases falls to producers and practitioners.”

What’s Next
The working group plans to produce a short white paper on each virus to identify gaps in our knowledge base, and establish a surveillance plan for emerging and international diseases. It will define the response roles of government and industry and identify diagnostic needs. It also will explore interactions with vaccine manufacturing partners to ensure the industry’s readiness is as advanced as possible.

Dr. Paul Sundberg, Vice President, Science and Technology at the National Pork Board, says, “We can’t expect USDA alone to respond quickly and efficiently to the ‘next PED’ in time to stop it. The pathway of disease introduction is difficult at best, and we need to be prepared for the next one to come because it is coming.”

Sundberg says preparedness involves detection, risk evaluation and subsequent interventions. That preparedness is necessary for all industry segments, including producers, veterinarians, government officials and agri-business because ultimately, the industry needs to be responsible for managing production diseases.