Exposure to a foreign animal disease could have devastating effects on the U.S. pork industry. It is important to understand how such an animal disease disaster would unfold. Advanced preparation and swift action are the keys to minimizing the impact.

The average pork producer probably doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about foreign animal diseases. But it is important to have a basic understanding of what occurs during an animal disease disaster and the roles individuals would play in such an event.

Economic Effects

The economic impact of a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in the United States has been estimated at $14 billion — roughly 9.5% of U.S. farm income.

Losses in gross revenue for live hogs and pork products in the United States are estimated at 34% and 24%, respectively, according to a 2002 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association article written by P.L. Paarlberg, J.G. Lee and A.H. Seitzinger.

A significant portion of the projected loss would result from closing of export markets, which account for approximately 15% of U.S. pork production and contribute an additional value of $23/head domestically.

Similar economic effects could be expected for a case of classical swine fever or other foreign animal diseases that have the ability to rapidly spread through the swine industry.

The loss of export markets is not the only repercussion when a foreign animal disease is discovered. On a national scale, the aggressive disease control measures enacted by animal health authorities to prevent further spread of a foreign animal disease will affect the movement of live pigs, fresh pork and pork products, locally and interstate.

Jointly, the loss of export markets and the restricted movement of pigs and pork paints a grim picture and underscores the importance of preparedness.

The better prepared the industry is to detect and respond to the introduction of foreign animal disease, the quicker and easier it will be for the industry to fully recover.

Focus on Early Detection

The early detection of a foreign animal disease in the U.S. swine herd is critical for mounting an effective disease response.

Because they observe their animals every day, pork producers play an important role in early detection. When disease problems arise, utilizing a herd veterinarian to determine the cause is critical.

The producer-veterinarian relation-ship is a powerful tool toward early detection of potential foreign animal diseases, especially when pork producers and veterinarians have a greater awareness of the symptoms and an understanding of how to report a suspect case.

Foreign Diseases of Swine

Foot-and-mouth disease, swine vesicular disease, vesicular stomatitis, classical swine fever (hog cholera) and African swine fever are animal diseases not present in the U.S. swine herd today.

A confirmed case of any of these diseases in the U.S. swine herd would affect the industry's ability to export pigs, as well as limit interstate commerce. Luckily, producers don't need to know the intricate details of each of these diseases in order to increase their awareness. The clinical signs can be broken down into two general categories — swine vesicular diseases and swine fevers.

Swine Vesicular Diseases

Foot-and-mouth disease, swine vesicular disease and vesicular stomatitis fall into the category of swine vesicular diseases. All cause blisters, which usually pop early and cause raw spots (excoriations) inside the mouth, on the snout, around the coronary band (top of the hoof) and between the toes.

In general, pigs affected with the early stages of these diseases have a high fever, refuse feed and are lame. In the later stages, pigs can get secondary bacterial infections of the raw spots and slough their hooves. These diseases usually don't cause mortality in older pigs, but some piglets may die and some sows may abort their litters.

Diseases currently circulating in the swine industry do not cause these types of outward appearances, so whenever these signs and symptoms do occur, producers should always be suspicious of a foreign animal disease.

If seen, it is important to immediately report these conditions to the herd veterinarian or directly to animal health authorities. See pictures of the vesicular diseases shown here and on the attached poster.

Swine Fevers

Classical swine fever and African swine fever fill the swine fever category. Weaned pigs infected with these diseases can have a high fever; go off feed; have splotchy, red, skin discolorations; diarrhea; and hind limb weakness. Mortality rates can exceed 30%.

These diseases can cause rapid mortality, or pigs may develop drawn-out, chronic symptoms. Unfortunately, many of the clinical signs of the swine fevers are mimicked by current diseases in the swine industry — particularly porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD), erysipelas and salmonella. This presents a problem because producers may have dealt with these domestic diseases, so seeing the clinical signs may not trigger suspicions that a foreign animal disease could be present. This underscores the importance of using your herd veterinarian for disease diagnostics when clinical signs appear.

Timely Disease Reporting

When a foreign animal disease is suspected, producers have two options — report the suspect case directly to state animal health authorities or contact your herd veterinarian immediately.

In most cases, the herd veterinarian is more familiar with state animal health authorities and knows how to contact them. Regardless, producers should have the contact information for their state animal health authorities readily available. The attached poster provides space to list contact information for the herd veterinarian, state animal health authorities, premises identification, full site address and the primary contact person.

Foreign Animal Disease Investigations

Any time state animal health authorities are notified that a foreign animal disease may be present, they will initiate a foreign animal disease investigation. Investigations are a free and confidential service provided by state animal health authorities for early detection of foreign animal diseases.

State veterinary authorities who have received training at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to qualify them as foreign animal disease diagnosticians (FADD) will investigate.

Once reported to state authorities, the goal is to have a foreign animal disease investigation completed on the same day. The diagnosticians work closely with the herd veterinarian and the pork producer to investigate and collect the appropriate laboratory samples to determine if a foreign animal disease is present.

During the investigation, foreign animal disease diagnosticians provide important information to the producer on the steps to prevent disease spread while the investigation is occurring. Most investigations are resolved within 24 hours. Unless there is a positive diagnosis of a foreign animal disease, producers are allowed to get back to business.

It is important for pork producers to understand that these investigations are fast, free and confidential. Hundreds are done across the country every year. Most turn out to be negative for a foreign animal disease.

These investigations are also a critical component in national disease surveillance programming. The ability to rapidly prove that a foreign animal disease is not present provides a level of confidence that the U.S. swine herd is free of foreign animal diseases. This confidence helps the pork industry maintain and expand its export markets. Pork producers play a direct role in supporting the industry's export markets.

Disease Response

If a foreign animal disease outbreak occurs, such as foot-and-mouth disease, state animal health authorities have to accomplish very specific actions in order to get a disease controlled and eradicated.

First, they must establish the appropriate control area and a surveillance zone around the infected farm. This defines the area where disease control measures and resources will be targeted.

Next, they will identify and classify farms with susceptible species in the control area that are directly exposed or at risk of exposure due to their proximity to the infected farm. Authorities will also identify industry assets, such as sale barns, buying stations, packing plants and county fairgrounds, within the control area.

Once the premises and assets are identified, state officials must communicate important information for disease identification and reporting, plus the disease control and biosecurity measures required to prevent further disease spread. Once contained, animal health authorities can focus efforts on eradicating the disease and the surveillance programs necessary to prove disease freedom. The faster all of these steps can be accomplished, the sooner producers can resume normal business operations.

Proactive Producers

During a foreign animal disease disaster, time is money. Successful business continuity during an animal disease disaster relates directly to the speed in which all cases of a disease are identified and controlled, the appropriate surveillance methods are initiated, the unaffected regions are identified, and the biological risk management programs (biosecurity) are implemented.

The easiest step producers can take to help prepare for a foreign animal disease outbreak or a natural disaster affecting livestock is to register their premises at the state level. Premises registration provides state animal health authorities with a data point on the map and corresponding producer contact information that allows officials to respond faster.

If an animal disease disaster occurs, premises identification and the National Animal Identification System will aid animal health authorities in identifying and certifying disease-free regions or compartments. This capability will help the industry more rapidly reestablish commerce interrupted by the aggressive disease control measures put in place at the state and national levels.

Pork producers should take advantage of animal disease disaster and foreign animal disease awareness training provided by state animal health authorities, county emergency managers or Extension offices. This training will increase awareness and help producers understand the effects of a foreign animal disease in their local communities. In addition, producers should work with their veterinarian to review biosecurity protocols to ensure they have procedures in place to prevent disease introduction.

The high impact of foreign animal diseases on the U.S. economy deserves special consideration, even when the risk of disease introduction is small.

Bottom line — the swine industry would be significantly affected by these diseases. Our level of preparedness as an industry will make a major difference in how quickly we will recover. Producers who take the time to increase their awareness play a critical role in increasing the overall preparedness of the swine industry.