Porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome costs the U.S. pork industry an estimated $560 million per year, according to a National Pork Board checkoff-funded study conducted in 2004. To an individual producer battling the disease, the costs — financial and emotional — are high.

Individual producer costs vary, including those associated with preventing the disease, battling the disease, battling associated diseases or eliminating the virus once the disease has surfaced.  

Retrospectively, a producer may be able to calculate how much a PRRS outbreak cost his or her operation, but no one producer can estimate the potential cost of an outbreak hitting his or her farm.  There’s no question that every producer would like to be able to reduce the odds that such exposure would happen.

Measuring up

You’ve heard it before, but it rings true: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

So, start by reflecting on the following questions:

  • With the management practices now in place on your farm, what is the risk of PRRS entering your herd?
  • If your herd is currently PRRS positive, what is preventing you from going through a PRRS clean up? 
  • If you recently restocked your farm to become PRRS-negative, how concerned should you be about a PRRS re-break?  What is your risk?

Every day you make decisions that involve risk. The key is to manage that risk, and in order to do that, you must measure it.

That starts with identifying risk factors. For PRRS, risk factors involve those that can be measured to indicate the statistical or epidemiological probability of an adverse condition, effect or disease. In other words, the decisions are based on the possibility or probability that an adverse outcome might occur. 

In this case, many of the management and biosecurity decisions you make daily affect the likelihood that a new disease will enter your herd.  But which ones increase that risk? One method is to have an actual risk assessment performed. 

Porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome costs the U.S. pork industry an estimated $560 million per year, according to a National Pork Board checkoff-funded study conducted in 2004.

A risk assessment is a documented approach used to determine the nature and extent of disease risk by analyzing the potential hazards and risk factors. It facilitates communication between veterinarians and producers regarding all potential risks to the production site. 

There is a specific tool that assesses the risk of PRRS entering a breeding herd — it’s called the PRRS Risk Assessment for the Breeding Herd. Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica developed it and rolled it out in the fall of 2002.  In 2005, BIV presented it to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians to make it more widely available to the industry. With support from the National Pork Board and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, AASV began directing the effort in 2006.

Today, IowaStateUniversity’s College of Veterinary Medicine works with AASV to further develop, manage and promote the disease risk-assessment tool and database. The database has already begun to yield some interesting insights. (See sidebar.)

Analysis of the results from 469 production-site assessments shows that herds that did not have drying requirements for washed vehicles averaged 1.38 PRRS clinical breaks in the past two years. Meanwhile, herds with a protocol allowing vehicles to dry before hauling the next load of pigs experienced an average of one break. Production systems using drying-assisted technology averaged 0.23 outbreaks in the past two years. 

This information does not suggest that investing in drying-assisted technologies will reduce a herd’s risk of a PRRS break by six-fold, but it does suggest that not drying trucks after washing is very likely an important risk factor to consider.

Assessing risks on your site

You can use the PRRS risk-assessment tool in different ways to fit the production site’s objectives. Some possibilities include:

  • To evaluate current biosecurity protocols in place at a production site.
  • To reduce risk by developing new bio-security protocols for a production site.
  • To objectively demonstrate improvement in biosecurity over time (benchmarking biosecurity).
  • To help justify the unit’s resource expenditure on measures to improve biosecurity.
  • To aid in the decision to initiate a project to eliminate the PRRS virus from a breeding herd. For example, used as a tool to identify modifiable risk factors in an effort to increase the likelihood that a PRRS elimination project will be successful in the long term.
  • To aid in the decision to use a breeding herd site to produce genetic animals due to their low PRRS risk.
  • As part of the due diligence process involved with purchasing or contracting agreements.

The PRRS Risk Assessment for the Breeding Herd is available to all producers through a veterinarian who’s trained in the procedures.  If you’re interested in having a risk assessment completed, first consult your herd veterinarian.  If he or she is not trained in the use of the tool, you can e-mail AASV at aasv@aasv.org for more information on locating a candidate.

When it comes to PRRS, some producers know their risk of an outbreak. Shouldn’t you know, too?  It sounds like they may have an edge.


Washing is not the Complete Cycle

An analysis of three different protocols for managing livestock transport vehicles after washing is presented here. The three approaches were: 

1) The vehicle is washed, but no drying requirements are in place.

2) The vehicle is washed and allowed to dry completely before the next load.

3) The vehicle is washed and assisted-drying technology is used to help dry.

You can see that there’s more to washing a vehicle and managing risks than soap and water. The bars show the number of Clinical PRRS breaks in the last two years.