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Warning system of global health threats to U.S. swine industry imperative

By sustaining a system to identify and assess those hazards early, we can understand and quantify the associated risks to inform decisions on allocation of resources for prevention and research.

May 8, 2018

4 Min Read
Warning system of global health threats to U.S. swine industry imperative
National Pork Board

By Ma. Sol Perez Aguirreburualde, Jonathan Chapman, Gabriel Al-Ghalith, Jerry Torrison, John Deen and Andres Perez, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine; and Paul Sundberg, Swine Health Information Center
The world has changed; distant locations may be covered only in a few hours. Products and supplies for pork production are now frequently traded between countries and markets located great distances from each other. The swine industry is vulnerable to the introduction of pathogens, and their variants, from which the United States is currently free.

The porcine epidemic diarrhea epidemic that affected the U.S. swine population a few years ago demonstrated that, although there are important benefits associated with trade, there is also a need to remain vigilant for potential hazards that could be introduced into the country intentionally or unintentionally. For that reason, it is important to develop mechanisms to detect early and report to producers and swine practitioners as soon as possible, health hazards at international locations that could eventually affect our industry.

The Swine Health Information Center has funded a project, implemented by the University of Minnesota and a number of collaborators in the United States and globally, to share information between government agencies and the industry with the ultimate objective of preventing or mitigating the impact of diseases epidemics. We are developing a system for near real-time identification of hazards that will contribute to the mission of assessing risks to the industry and ultimately, identify, detect early, or prevent the introduction of foreign pathogens into the United States.

We routinely do online searches to detect hazards, contact official agencies worldwide and work with our international network of collaborators to collect, organize and report relevant health information for the U.S. swine industry. To create the reports, we follow a systematic process:

• Screening/filtering phase: Multiple official data sources such as government and international organization websites, international cooperation programs, and soft data sources like newspapers and unstructured electronic information are systematically screened to build a raw repository. After that, an include/exclude process is undertaken under a crowdsourcing model. In this phase, a first filter based on a novelty criterion is applied. As output of this phase, a clean list of events is obtained which is the input of the next phase.

• Scoring phase: A multi-criteria rubric was built based on credibility, scale and speed of the outbreak; connectedness; local capacity to respond; and potential financial impact on the U.S. market. Each event is scored independently by a group of experts. The average scores are calculated for each event jointly with the link to the original source. Consistency and level of dispersion of the scores are assessed before publication.

• Quality assurance: This phase is aimed at ensuring that the design, operation and monitoring of processes/systems will comply with principles of data integrity including control over intentional and unintentional changes to information. The monthly report is put into a PDF document automatically from the app after the scoring process is finalized. At last, assembly of figures and proofreading is done before sending it to SHIC for monthly publication.

Reports are produced monthly, shared with the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to contribute to the country’s federal risk analysis system, and may be found by the general public at the SHIC or Center For Animal Health And Food Safety webpages.

The first prototype of the system was developed using important foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever as a model; other relevant diseases will be incorporated as we progress on system development.

At a global scale, arguably the most important swine disease event affecting the industry over the last year has been the spread of ASF in Europe. The focus continues to be on Eastern Europe where there has been an upsurge in ASF diagnoses in wild boars, predominantly in Poland and the Czech Republic, with a recent report in Hungary. This, in turn, has heightened concerns in neighboring countries, some of which are important for the swine industry. Germany and Denmark acutely recognize this threat, particularly the economic impact of introduction. They are reducing wild boar populations, investing in border fences, reexamining transport protocols and educating the public on responsible disposal of food waste. 

In summary, we must remain vigilant to the occurrence of hazards that may affect the health status of our national herd. Swine producers’ associations (SHIC), federal agencies (USDA-APHIS) and academic institutions (UMN) have joined forces to develop a system for early detection and reporting of those hazards globally. We know that terrible events occur and that there is not much we can do about them in many instances. However, we also know we can be better prepared to face those challenges if they ever do occur. By sustaining a system to identify and assess those hazards early, we can understand and quantify the associated risks to inform decisions on allocation of resources for prevention and research, such as development of diagnostic tests and vaccines with the ultimate objective of protecting and better serving our industry.

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