Finishing hogs National Pork Board
The 2013 outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus taught the U.S. swine industry that a good response to the disease was in place, but that response was slow. Rapid Response teams have now been established to offer a quick response should an emerging disease show up in swine herds.

Rapid response means quicker recovery

The 2013 outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus proved that the U.S. swine industry had a good response, it just wasn’t rapid.

Paul Sundberg remembers a case of dying pigs from the early 2000s. Eight hundred pigs were placed on a finisher floor, and within two weeks, 800 pigs were dead and the diagnostics didn’t show a cause. USDA came in and did a foreign animal disease investigation on the pigs and it came back negative for classical swine fever, African swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease.

“We can tell you what it’s not, but it’s not our job to tell you what it is,” Sundberg recalls being told. “That experience, as well as the experience with PED, stressed the need for rapid response and rapid detection, and led to the development of some of the different programs” of what is now the Swine Health Information Center.

Sundberg, SHIC executive director, says there was a good response by investigating outbreaks without an apparent link to other outbreaks when the U.S. swine herd was infected by porcine epidemic diarrhea virus in 2013, “but it wasn’t a very ‘rapid’ response.” In the aftermath of the PED crisis, the swine industry has poured a lot of time, effort and funds into reducing the time of reaction to “the next PED,” he says.

Hog producers know their animals, and as soon as they detect something is amiss in the herd they call their veterinarian, who may then perform a post-mortem examination on the pigs and send tissue to diagnostic labs. If the veterinarian is suspicious of the ailment being a foreign animal disease or some disease new to the U.S. or growing, they are required to contact the state or federal animal health officials.

Getting back to the 800 finishers mentioned above, if there is a similar case where the cause of dying pigs is unresolved, SHIC has resources available for producers and veterinarians to pursue further diagnostics work “to try and figure out what is wrong with the pigs.”

If there is a suspicion that the disease in the infecting offender is new, or a disease that hasn’t been around for a while, then the producer or the veterinarian should place a call to a veterinarian with any of the following pork industry organizations:

American Association of Swine Veterinarians, 515-465-5255
National Pork Board, 515-223-2600
National Pork Producers Council, 515-278-8012
Swine Health Information Center, 515-598-4553

A call to any of the above will set in motion what is intended to be a rapid response, “starting key communications between all the parties,” Sundberg says. Each of the four organizations will be brought up to speed once the initial call has come in, setting up a conference call with the producer, the herd veterinarian as well as a panel of industry veterinarians from AASV, NPB, NPPC and SHIC.

Again, time is of the essence with a disease outbreak, and Sundberg says it is integral to keep a fast pace. He says this conference call will take place within 48 hours, “same day if possible,” of the initial call coming into one of the four organizations, and diagnostic results should be back from the labs so all can have a better idea of what the herd is being inflicted with. If there is suspicion that this disease is new to the U.S., then USDA will need to be informed. “It is important that we communicate clearly and openly,” he says.

Sundberg stresses the important role that producers and their herd veterinarians play in this entire process, and he is quick to calm concerns by pointing out that all of their information will be held in confidentiality, “unless the producer doesn’t care if it is shared or the situation is dictated by regulation.”

The conference call will be a further fact-finding mission, getting more details from the producer and herd veterinarian to “tell us more about what they’ve found,” Sundberg says. Keeping with the need for speed, he says the involved organizations “don’t want to impede progress; we don’t want to slow things down. We trust the producer and the herd veterinarian.”

Although the use of today’s technology can greatly aid in diagnostics and differentiating what is occurring on the farm, sometimes good old observation is the best method. “We would never turn down pictures (taken on a cell phone), but the issue here is to have information that is sufficient to decide whether a Rapid Response team is beneficial to the producer and veterinarian,” Sundberg says, adding that results from a veterinary diagnostics lab are probably already in hand.

Even with the VDL results coming in, Sundberg says the visual observation of symptoms of Seneca Valley Virus start an entirely different line of communication. “A call needs to be made to state or federal animal health officials to get this checked out immediately to rule out a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.”

Reiterating Sundberg’s thought that the response to PED was good, just not rapid, SHIC has established the aforementioned Rapid Response teams that will visit farm sites to further inspect the disease situation.

“With PED we took a national approach, and it took too long to get someone out to a farm site,” Sundberg says. Now, the country is divided into six regions, with the hog-dense regions having a higher number of well-trained Rapid Response team members. Training for members began in August 2017. Professionals in each of the six Rapid Response Program regions have signed the Memorandum of Understanding to become part of the team and have participated in the online training.

“We want it so that the Rapid Response team can drive to farms and not have to deal with flights,” he says. A Rapid Response team will only be dispatched to a farm upon the request of the producer. If a Rapid Response team visit is requested, Sundberg says there could be boots on the farm within 72 hours from the time that initial call was placed.

A worst-case-scenario was used when the Rapid Response teams were developed. “We wanted to have enough trained members so that if we had three separate outbreaks, for example, occur in the same day that we would be able to send teams out,” Sundberg says.

Derald Holtkamp, associate professor in the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, coordinates the Rapid Response teams.

While the Rapid Response teams might help determine the pathogen or virus that is plaguing the farm if that’s not already done, Sundberg says the teams also offer “another set of eyes” to identify gaps that may have occurred in the biosecurity plan to allow the disease to hit the farm.

Sundberg keeps going back to the lessons learned from the PED outbreak, but he also fears that, as time passes, the industry will lose sight of the great response strides that have been made. “Because the importance of quick, effective response was evident during the initial PED outbreak there was a lot of cooperation to try to improve. But the further we get from the outbreak, there’s danger we may slip in our focus on quickly sharing animal health information to support quick responses,” he says, “and a lot of that can be overcome simply by keeping the lines of communication open. The communication pathway is not sexy, but it’s very important. It’s a lot like advertising for Coke or Pepsi. You don’t see a commercial and say, ‘I need a Coke.’ But when you do want something to drink, you’ll remember to buy that product.” He says the same goes for the response message. “If we keep reminding producers of the importance of a quick communication to rapid response, it will become second-nature.”

At the core of the success of the Rapid Response Program is communication, and Sundberg puts a lot of that on the producer and the herd veterinarian. “They are the boots on the ground,” he says. “Let us know about something going on that you don’t feel comfortable about. Give us a call. … We need to be transparent and work together for an effective response.”

If a producer or herd veterinarian determine that the disease is more than “the next PED,” and state or federal animal health officials find a foreign animal disease like FMD, CSF or ASF, then the Secure Pork Supply program is activated.

But for now, the biosecurity measures in place and the line of communication will go a long way to keep emerging diseases out of the U.S. swine herd and prevent the spread of diseases.

“I think we’re much better prepared for the next disease. We will be much better prepared than we were for PED in 2013,” Sundberg says, “and I can’t stress enough part of being that much better prepared is the producer and veterinarian. We in the industry can have all sorts of plans and everything in place, but we need to have the producers and vets aware that they are partners, we are dependent on them.”

The Swine Health Information Center has great resources available for producers and veterinarians to learn more about the Rapid Response program by visiting the Swine Health Information Center website.

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