SHIC looks back on successes; more work ahead

Just as producers attempt to keep diseases off their farms, the Swine Health Information Center’s mission is to protect and enhance the health of the U.S. swine herd.

Kevin.Schulz, senior content specialist

February 7, 2017

12 Min Read
SHIC looks back on successes; more work ahead

The Swine Health Information Center was established in 2015 with a focus on implementing industry preparedness for disease challenges that could affect U.S. swine herds. Paul Sundberg didn’t have time to ease into his position as SHIC’s executive director as Seneca Valley virus started appearing in producers’ barns that summer.

Sundberg hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since, upholding SHIC’s mission “to protect and enhance the health of the United States swine herd through coordinated global disease monitoring, targeted research investments that minimize the impact of future disease threats, and analysis of swine health data.”

“Targeted research doesn’t mean just bench research,” Sundberg says. “Targeted research can be in a lot of different areas including analysis of data, with the objective of that analysis to help the producers and the veterinarians on the farm.”

Sundberg credits SHIC’s board of directors, made up of representatives from National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, American Association of Swine Veterinarians and producers at-large. “Those guys are really engaged, and they work seriously at this, overseeing the programs we work with.”

In addition to the board of directors, Sundberg says the “real power” comes from the Center’s two working groups — the Monitoring and Analysis Working Group, and the Preparedness and Response Working Group.

“The objective is to put people with different expertise together to provide input, oversight, ideas and direction to what the center can handle,” he says.

Each working group has more than 20 members, and Sundberg says the large groups are important “because we don’t physically meet together, but we are on calls all the time. We want to be nimble enough to get things done when they have to be done. They have to be large because I don’t always get all of these folks on the telephone at the same time.

“We work fast and try to get things done quickly,” he says. “The real power is that when I pick up the phone or send an email, these people just do it. It’s truly amazing for both working groups and the board of directors having the dedication that they have, all of those folks have, to the swine industry and the willingness to lend their expertise to what’s going on.”

Best-laid plans are not always accomplished, and Sundberg acknowledges the center did not meet 100% of the items on the 2016 plan of work. Sundberg says the center was able to accomplish many things in its mission to protect and enhance the health of the United States swine herd.

In the full 2016 Progress Report, SHIC offers details of how it enhanced and coordinated global disease monitoring, targeted research investments and improved analysis and communication of swine health data, and how it made a difference in our country’s ability to prepare for and mitigate disease threats. 

Sundberg and SHIC’s programs aim to complement, not duplicate, the efforts already in the works by the USDA, NPB, NPPC, AASV, land-grant universities and other organizations, and he says the focus is in four key areas — preparedness, response, monitoring and analysis. SHIC’s mission success is reliant on the collaboration and integration between all of these groups. Following are 2016 achievements:


■ Focused research on the ability to detect the swine disease matrix pathogens via nucleic acid detection, using platforms, such as PCR testing, commonly available in the U.S. major veterinary diagnostic laboratories.

■ Produced nine additional swine disease fact sheets, bringing the total to 33.

■ Continues to fund a project that helps define disease introduction risks to the U.S. pork industry that come from importing feedstuffs and feed components. Preliminary results for Senecavirus A (surrogate for foot-and-mouth disease), bovine viral diarrhea virus (surrogate for classic swine fever) and bovine herpes virus-1 (surrogate for pseudorabies) are completed; work continues on others.

■ Started work to create nationwide operational disease preparedness with the Rapid Response Corps project. The goal of this project is to develop a rapid response program for epidemiological investigations of emerging, transboundary and endemic swine diseases.

■ Presented SHIC-funded Seneca Valley virus research results during three interactive webinars, which are now archived at

■ Developed a program to help offset diagnostic fees for further investigation after the initial diagnostics are completed. A novel Sapelovirus that might be causing morbidity and mortality via central nervous system infection was identified through this process. In another case, Pasivirus was detected by Next Generation Sequencing in sera samples.


■ Conducted a survey about swine diseases and related issues using the international network of the Monitoring and Analysis Working Group and got responses from 13 foreign countries that highlighted international concern for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, influenza and others.

■ Funded a project to help analyze the effectiveness of on-farm biosecurity practices using PRRS outbreaks as the indicator of biosecurity effectiveness. The evaluation will help U.S. pork producers to implement effective biosecurity and prevent outbreaks of emerging diseases.

■ The Swine Disease Matrix content and the prioritization of the viruses was reviewed and updated by the Monitoring and Analysis Working Group. SHIC uses the Matrix to help focus its research and information on high-priority pathogens.

■ Funded a pilot project investigating the use of Next Generation Deep Sequencing to survey imported feed components and other imported products. It determined that Next Generation Deep Sequencing was not successful in detecting some viruses spiked into some feed components. Work to identify ways to satisfactorily monitor imported products continues.


SHIC is the primary source of funding for the veterinary diagnostic laboratories of Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of Minnesota and South Dakota State University to work with Clemson University to standardize the way that they report their diagnostic laboratory swine testing results.

When completed, the results of the project will be offered to other veterinary diagnostic labs that do swine work for improved national coordination.

“When the veterinary diagnostics labs developed their systems for recording the results of their laboratory tests, they each did them to meet the needs of their individual diagnostic lab,” Sundberg says. “What that means is they work very well with what they’re doing, but it’s a challenge for them to share their data. It can happen, but it takes some heavy lifting. … if we’re going to be better prepared to respond to an emerging disease or a foreign animal disease such as foot-and-mouth or classical swine fever, African swine fever or any of those; if we’re going to be better prepared, we need to be better coordinated.”

Sundberg says this project should be done the middle of this year; establishing and adopting the use of universally recognized data standards and message schema are the foundational elements necessary to support the needs and demands of the 21st-century pork industry in North America.

The Swine Health Monitoring Project currently involves approximately 40% of the sows in the United States for monitoring economically important pathogens. A data management program is being developed to collect, collate, analyze and report data from various sources to create value for producers. In the short term, this project contributes to the control and prevention of important swine diseases. In the longer term, this builds the industry’s capacity for data collection, organization and capability to facilitate response to emerging pathogens.

“When I started as a veterinarian in 1981 in Nebraska, back then, producers did their own thing,” Sundberg says. “Then we started working together, and sharing information. Then we went through PRRS, circovirus, and when PED hit in 2013, there was a lot of interest in sharing — what are you doing, and how are you doing, and what’s your status of disease?”

The willingness to share information is really important, Sundberg says, to understand what’s going on around each producer, so each can respond appropriately and effectively.

SHIC has also funded research being done by Scott Dee of Pipestone Applied Research and the research team at South Dakota State University on whether animal diseases not in the United States could potentially be imported with feed ingredients, just as previous Dee research showed the proof of concept that PEDV could indeed make the trip from China.

SHIC has funded a project to determine whether oral fluids collected by hanging ropes in the holding pens of a contemporary U.S. abattoir can be effectively used for swine disease surveillance. Preliminary results are being evaluated.

SHIC is offering diagnostic fee support when “either you don’t get a diagnosis or the veterinarian and producer look at the diagnosis and you say, ‘No, that’s not it.’ We can help. In those cases, where initial diagnostics are done and there are still high death losses or high morbidity, and the producer says, ‘I can’t do anything more,’ we’re going to help to make sure that we’re not missing anything,” Sundberg says.

This resource is available for any producer to use, and they can access more information on the SHIC website.

2017 plan of work

SHIC’s Board of Directors met Jan. 27 to solidify the Center’s 2017 plan. Sundberg sought input through conversations with hog producers and swine veterinarians across the country. Some points covered:

Swine disease matrix: The working group organized a list of 44 diseases that can affect pigs, listed in order of likelihood of coming to the United States, along with the economic impact, and came up with the swine disease matrix.

Last year research was done on those viruses with PCR technology in VDLs “to make sure we could find them if they come,” Sundberg says. “This year, we’re looking at serology so we can use blood samples to monitor it, if it gets here.”

Risk to swine health: One of the ways to monitor risk is to perform international swine disease monitoring, continuing with surveys and intelligence from on the ground around the world, “so we’re not missing something that could find its way here.”

It is said that every day up to 1 million pigs are traversing U.S. highways, and the swine industry needs to identify regional differences to understand the risks that may come from pig movements.

“As I have talked to people about developing a plan for 2017, they ask about the status of pigs in different areas of the country,” he says. “Because we are essentially a national farrow-to-finish herd the way we’re moving pigs around the country every day.”

Sundberg says more research will look at common inputs such as feed and vaccines to determine the risk potential for farms.

As stated before, the sharing of information by producers has improved, with the Swine Health Monitoring Project and Area Regional Disease Control groups as examples, but can this transfer of information get even better?

In addition to making the flow of information easier across channels, Sundberg stresses the importance of the swine industry getting on the same page when discussing swine health issues.

“Not just the diagnostics test results coordination, like was funded in 2016, but how we talk about health in general,” he says.

He equates it to when the NPB helped facilitate production standards in the 1990s. “When someone is talking average daily gain, here’s the agreed upon definition of average daily gain,” he says. “AASV is doing some of this with PRRS and others, but we haven’t had a coordinated effort to make sure we’re all talking the same general language in swine health. … It all comes down to communication, because communicating clearly will help identify risks, and producers and their veterinarians can do a better job of managing their pigs’ health.”

Emerging diseases

Also in the 2017 work plan draft is improving or solidifying the surveillance and discovery of emerging diseases. Sundberg says the PEDV episodes taught the industry a lot of things, including the need for rapid response to an infection.

“We had farms that were isolated that broke with PED. So, we needed to see if we could learn how the virus was introduced, to help inform others about that risk. The producers offered to have experts in epidemiology and swine diseases sent there to find out how they got PED, to learn from that instance,” he says. “That worked great as a response, but it wasn’t very rapid. Part of the problem was that people from Minnesota had to go to Utah, and from Minnesota to Oklahoma. That took logistics that included planes.”

To overcome that, Sundberg says a system is being looked at that, when permission is given by the producer, “we could have those experts on the farm within 72 hours of the outbreak of an emerging disease.”

The country would be divided into regions that would allow the experts to drive to the farms, eliminating the need for air travel.

The final component of this year’s work plan is building a better response to emerging diseases.

“When the center was formed, we talked about the entire system of monitoring, analysis and preparedness, and producers came back with, but you’re not saying anything about response,” he says. “We’ve got to be better at responding to a disease.”

One example is when Seneca Valley virus, which has been identified in the U.S. since 1988, broke out with many cases last fall, the center was able to put money into research to answer some questions that could help in the diagnostic labs and help manage the disease on the farm.

“We also need to develop a system so we’re better at coordinating an effective and proportional response to an outbreak,” he says.

Enabling producers to prove negative disease status would be a positive move to enable them to get permission to continue to move pigs in an outbreak. “Back in the pseudorabies eradication days, we went up and down the road and tested farms by taking blood samples from individual pigs. We can’t do that with foot-and-mouth disease, for example. We have to evolve past that.”

Sundberg says producers need to have the ability to use oral fluids to determine disease status. Validating oral fluid diagnostic tests to help demonstrate disease status is another project SHIC will support.

For more information, visit the SHIC website.

About the Author(s)


senior content specialist, National Hog Farmer

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