Determining the cause of a peculiar health condition in pigs is not unlike a crime scene investigation (CSI). The veterinarian, producer and diagnosticians search for clues into what, how and why the episode occurred. If it’s an emerging disease, where the epidemiology is unfamiliar or unknown, they’re still left scratching their heads.
Enter the Rapid Response Plan and Rapid Response Corps — sort of a CSI effort for the hog industry.
The concept started in 2013 with funding from the Iowa Pork Producers Association for a project that looked at biosecurity risk factors for a transboundary disease — porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) — and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). Derald Holtkamp, DVM, Iowa State University, expanded the effort to help the industry guard against other transboundary diseases.
“In the case of a foreign animal disease, USDA will take the lead,” Holtkamp told Pig Health Today.
“But if we have another transboundary disease [like PED], we wanted to create a group of individuals who could go out and do epidemiological investigations to figure out how the virus got into the country and how it’s being moved from herd to herd.”
Pseudorabies is one example of a familiar transboundary disease. It’s been eradicated from the US, but it remains in various other countries. The Swine Health Information Center has a disease matrix on its website at swinehealth.org that lists such diseases, as well as a risk score and their potential impact.
Calling in the corps
The Rapid Response Corps is made up of swine veterinarians, academics and state animal-health officials, totaling 35 people, with an initial goal of 40.
“With the Rapid Response Corps, they’re agreeing to be available at a moment’s notice,” Holtkamp said. “The people enrolled have told us they would drop what they’re doing and respond in an actual (disease) emergency.”
Participant preparation involves online training and testing. To beta-test the program, organizers used 10 PED cases that surfaced in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Illinois, between November 2017 and March 2018.
The first step in an outbreak is to recruit a corps member in the region to arrive quickly to the scene. “We help the individual prepare — gather information and send that to him,” Holtkamp explained.
Once onsite, the corps member walks through the farm with the farm manager, herd veterinarian and anyone else deemed necessary, conducts the investigation, fills out a designated form and submits it to Holtkamp’s Rapid Response Plan team.
Lessons learned to date
Although the corps participants have agreed to respond at a moment’s notice, there’s a need to expand the pool of candidates in some regions of the country. Coordinating schedules and getting everyone at the table quickly is a challenge, but Holtkamp reiterated, “if we had to investigate an actual emergency, I’m pretty confident we’d be able to get it done and meet our goals for time limits.”
Having someone to accompany the investigator to take notes or tape the discussion and help write the report is another discovery that surfaced. When someone does an investigation alone, it can be difficult to capture all the details. “So, there was a lot of information that I normally would expect to have in a report that I just didn’t get,” Holtkamp added.
Specific to biosecurity, the test run didn’t find any smoking guns linking the 10 PED cases, but there were issues that surfaced repeatedly. “Weaned-pig removal came up as a high likelihood in four of the 10 cases,” Holtkamp noted. “Feed delivery was identified in two of the 10 cases.”
Employee entry into a facility is a risk factor that surfaces time and again, largely because it’s such a frequent event. “It occurs more frequently than any other risk event on every investigation we’ve ever done,” he said.
Another risk involves onsite repairs, which tends to be a low-frequency event but often requires a quick response with personnel that may not be as tuned in to biosecurity. Overall, the industry has addressed gilt entry and bringing boar semen onto a farm effectively, thereby minimizing their potential impact. Of course, transportation-related processes remain a high-risk factor.
Holtkamp’s advice for on-farm biosecurity is to take a step back, evaluate current protocols and identify specific risk events and areas for improvement. “Biosecurity is complex,” he noted. “For a virus to enter a herd, a series of failures has to occur, so focus on those areas first. Then look for ways to mitigate the impact if an agent does arrive on the farm.”
The Rapid Response Plan is developing a web-based application to help facilitate and streamline the on-site investigations. The team will continue to look for opportunities to test the program and changes.
Organizers also have scheduled a Rapid Response Plan pre-conference session at the 2019 American Association of Swine Veterinarian’s (AASV) meeting in March in Orlando, Florida. “It will be open to any AASV member that would like to sit in,” Holtkamp noted. “We will work on lessons we’ve learned from the beta test and opportunities to improve the program.”