SHIC establishes diagnostic strategies to get ahead of disease

If knowledge is power, being prepared is security. Both are drivers behind the Swine Health Information Center’s (SHIC) program to share information among the nation’s four major swine veterinary diagnostic laboratories.
calendar icon 12 December 2018
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Still in its formative stage, the effort has aligned swine diagnostic labs in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas to coordinate disease-reporting methods for 96% of submissions in the US.

According to Paul Sundberg, DVM, SHIC executive director, the objective is two-fold:

  • To improve methods to address swine disease currently present in the US herd
  • To look for emerging swine-health issues that could remain hidden if the labs didn’t exchange information.

For example, let’s say a pork producer in Georgia sends samples to diagnose a clinical syndrome to Iowa State University, and a producer in Ohio is facing the same syndrome but sends samples to the University of Minnesota. Before, the information from those two cases wouldn’t come together, Sundberg told Pig Health Today.

“The value is in being able to help producers understand the risks that might be coming at them,” he said. “If you know what’s going on around you, you have the ability to prevent it, which is the goal, or at least be better prepared to respond.”

Interpreting the numbers

Sundberg emphasised that all of the information is aggregated — nothing is tied back to any specific farm. Each individual laboratory keeps its own client data. Another benefit is that an advisory panel, involving swine veterinarians and producers from across the nation, analyse and provide context to the numbers.

For example, from December 2017 to February 2018, there was a spike in sample submissions for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PPRS). The panel was able to review the data and compare what they were seeing in the field to determine that the cases were more isolated and there was not a widespread outbreak underway. Equally important, the program makes all of the information available to epidemiologists, who might identify developments and trends that others might not.

Right now, SHIC provides monthly diagnostic reports for PRRS, porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus, delta coronavirus and central nervous system syndromes. “We’re looking at how we can expand it to respiratory syndromes, enteric syndromes and more specific pathogens, to do an even better job of feeding back to producers what’s going on,” Sundberg said.

Another long-term goal is to expand the program to include all private and small diagnostic laboratories that do swine-health testing and are part of the larger National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

Monitoring emerging and foreign diseases

Raising the bar on monitoring domestic swine-health issues also melds into the importance of trying to stay ahead of emerging and foreign animal diseases. SHIC also releases monthly international disease-monitoring reports, showing what’s happening where. “The point is to be better at predicting what might be coming at us,” Sundberg noted, because, the earlier you can identify a threat, the better you’re able to respond and hopefully limit the effects.

“The brass ring that we want to grab is to help producers and veterinarians predict what’s going to happen near or on their farms, rather than tell them what happened a week or a month or 3 months ago,” he added. “We want to get in front of a disease, not behind it.”

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