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Tools for quick disease diagnosis

Hog Outlook: Containment of hog diseases is key to protect U.S. swine industry.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

June 10, 2024

4 Min Read
Piglets in a pen
HEALTH TRACK: Rapid detection of diseases in a swine herd is imperative to contain the pathogen, prevent spread to other herds and get a treatment plan in place.Kevin Schulz

Quick diagnosis of a disease goes a long way to containing the spread of a pathogen that could decimate a single swine herd or beyond.

One such disease that has plagued the U.S. swine industry is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, and various strains have evolved over time, furthering the impact of PRRS.

Studies show those impacts hover around $664 million a year, with some estimates raising that bar as high as $1 billion.

As I reported back in February, some researchers feel the PRRS reign of terror is over; regardless, the industry continues to monitor PRRS incidences.

The Swine Health Monitoring Project, established in 2011, was the brainchild of the late Robert Morrison, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota. After his death in 2017, those who continue his work at U-M officially added Morrison to the name of the SHMP, which issues a weekly update on various swine diseases.

More than 35 production systems across 28 states voluntarily share their premise IDs and pathogen statuses of more than 2.5 million sows. Sharing such information is for the greater good of the U.S. swine industry to assist in a timely response to emerging infectious diseases, while also delivering short-term benefits to address diseases currently on the radar.

For example, the most recent issued MSHMP [May 31] offers updates on PRRS, porcine enteric coronavirus, Senecavirus A and atypical central nervous system cases. Tracked diseases of CNS cases are atypical porcine pestivirus, porcine enterovirus, porcine sapelovirus, porcine teschovirus and porcine astrovirus.

Surveillance of diseases impacting the U.S. swine industry is only effective with broad-spectrum participation, and the MSHMP offers that. Though the U.S. hog industry is large in numbers of animals, it is small enough that the players need each other — and as a unified force such diseases can be controlled, if not conquered.

Sequence tracking

Knowing that early detection is key to timely treatment, the Swine Disease Reporting System has launched the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool, or BLAST, which allows veterinarians, producers, and others to compare genetic sequences of PRRS with those in the system.

The SDRS is a collaboration of scientists from Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Ohio Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory, Purdue University, South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota, thanks in part to a grant of $1 million from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

These six National Animal Health Laboratory Network-accredited veterinary diagnostic laboratories collaborate in the SDRS to collect, collate, and monitor diagnostic data of nine infectious agents in U.S. swine herds.

In a NIFA press release earlier this year, Giovani Trevisan, research assistant professor at Iowa State University, said “For the first time in the swine industry, we can use private data, while keeping providers anonymous, to generate information and share it with stakeholders who can use it in the decision-making process to manage and control an economically important disease such as PRRSV (sometimes PRRS is called PRRSV — the V is for virus). Therefore, the platform has the potential to rapidly inform U.S. citizens about health challenges affecting swine farms, which is critical for the sustainability and secure pork supply.”

According to that same press release, the BLAST tool quickly proved its merit shortly after its release, as at the end of February of this year an aggressive PRRS strain, L1C.5, was detected in South Carolina for the first time. This detection is important due to geographic proximity, as neighboring North Carolina is home to the largest U.S. swine breeding inventory.

Not only did it detect the L1C.5 strain in South Carolina, the BLAST tool helped to identify those sequences matched other sequences in other states not in the Carolina region.

Keeping an eye on the pathogen horizon is imperative to keeping the swine herd healthy, and tools such as BLAST will aid in disease monitoring. Monitoring pathogens already in U.S. swine herds is important, but that will be compounded should a transboundary disease such as African swine fever hit the U.S. Speed will be of the essence if ASF hits the U.S., so herds can be isolated, contained and to prevent spread.

Knowledge is power when battling swine diseases.

Schulz grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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