AgView: Contact tracing for ASF and much more

African swine fever (ASF) has spread like a slow burn across the globe since the 2007 identification in the Republic of Georgia. It moved into the EU, and by 2018, surfaced in China then continued across Asia. In 2021, for the first time in 40 years, ASF was discovered in the Dominican Republic.

“Put simply, the global status of ASF is that it’s here and it’s here to stay, unfortunately,” Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health with the National Pork Board (NPB), told Pig Health Today.

Yes, foreign animal diseases (FADs) “are a constant threat…because the majority of countries out there have foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) or classical swine fever (CSF) or ASF,” he added. “We’re really lucky here in the US that we long ago eradicated FMD and CSF and have never had ASF.”

While much of that is due to the protections that the industry has already put in place, ASF’s return to the Western hemisphere raises concerns. The reality is that luck will only carry you so far.

Fortunately, a new database system — AgView — is available to prepare producers, veterinarians and state animal-health officials ahead of a foreign or emerging swine disease challenge.

Contact tracing for pigs

NPB committed the last few years to developing AgView, which consists of database and dashboard technology, and rolled it out in the fall of 2021. It is a voluntary opt-in program that connects data from participating swine production systems to state animal-health officials. There is no cost to producers or the state animal-health officials that use AgView.

The goal is for producers to organize production-location and animal-movement data so that it can be shared electronically at a click of a button with the state animal-health official in the face of an FAD outbreak or investigation. “AgView quite simply is contact tracing for pigs,” Webb said.

“The important part is that with the AgView account…the producer has control over the data,” he added. The state animal-health official will use AgView to request the necessary data, and the producer has to agree to share it.

While the numbers are continuously changing, currently 25 state animal-health offices have accounts, and the NPB team is working to get more on board. As for producers who have created an account, they represent a range of operation sizes, with 18 of the top 40 production systems having AgView accounts. In all, approximately 33% of US sows are now represented.

Data collection and entry

There are two categories of data that producers enter into AgView, with the purpose of determining where the disease is and isn’t, Webb noted.

  1. Production locations: This includes the emergency contact, company name, premises identification (prem ID) number, street address and global-positioning system (GPS) coordinates. Also included is the type of production on the site — sow farm, gilt-development unit, wean-to-finish barns — along with site capacity and the number of barns onsite. “This is the kind of information the state veterinarian would need in an outbreak,” Webb said.
  2. Animal movements: This involves data on all animal movements, including those within a site or production system. For example, when sending and receiving animals, it would include the prem ID, site address or GPS coordinate, date of movement, number of head and shipment identification. “Those types of things…would be shared if the producer approves it, along with their Secure Pork Supply Plan and any diagnostic laboratory data,” Webb added. “So, the state veterinarian gets to see all of it immediately, which provides them a lot more situational awareness than a dot on a map.”

As for data entry, there are multiple options. A producer can load the data and animal movements directly into AgView and use it for recordkeeping. “We’re seeing a lot of buy-in on that,” Webb said. “It’s even quicker and easier to do than putting it in a spreadsheet, and producers will do things if it saves time or money.”  

Other producers that have electronic or Excel files with column headings that they want to use can map those files to the standard in AgView. Then, as they update their data, they can still view their familiar columns, but the data will be standardized in AgView.

The option getting the most traction is the application programming interface (API), which is database-to-database communication that allows recordkeeping services to upload data. AgView has an API with MetaFarms and Delfax and is testing one with PigCHAMP.

“We’ve learned that producers don’t like to translate data; if somebody will do that for them then it’s a good deal,” Webb noted. “As we get PigCHAMP going live and other companies to develop APIs we’re going to get a lot more producers in there because it makes it easy.”

Add in the diagnostics

One thing needed to complete the circle of information, and a request from state animal-health officials, was for AgView to merge diagnostic laboratory data into the system.

“We started working with the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and South Dakota State University on developing APIs,” Webb said. “It allows those labs to message directly to the producer’s account, and then with data sharing, the state veterinarian can see the diagnostic results.”

Getting those results out to the incident command as fast as possible during an FAD outbreak is key to controlling and limiting the impact. These three diagnostic labs do the lion’s share of swine testing; once they’re set up, the next step is to reach out to other national animal-health laboratory network labs to build connections.

While there’s strong support for AgView’s emergency contract tracing, there are “peacetime” swine-health benefits as well. For example, a production system can follow its health status, pig movements and diagnostic results and track any outbreaks of diseases such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and use the data to better understand how it moves through the system. It also could help flag new swine-health challenges — think in terms of “the next porcine epidemic diarrhea virus,” Webb noted.

Next steps

Bottomline, producer participation is key to making AgView work for the US pork industry. Webb encouraged producers to go to\AgView. They can request a demonstration or training or start creating an account. “We’ll be there for anybody and everybody to help them understand the system, get data in the system and learn how to use the system,” Webb said.

For herd veterinarians that provide services to producers, he encouraged them to learn more about what AgView does and how participation can benefit the client and the industry, as well as help clients create AgView accounts if needed.