September 15, 2014


 Better diagnostics, disease response needed

​By Greg Cima

Posted Sept. 3, 2014

The Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinary officer said disease risks grow daily with global trade, and he needs more resources and veterinarians’ help.

Dr. John R. Clifford, deputy administrator for veterinary services in the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, cited the spread of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus starting in spring 2013 in describing the need for rapid diagnosis and response to events involving substantial morbidity and death. The National Pork Producers Council previously published an estimate that the coronavirus that causes PED had killed more than seven million pigs in little more than one year in the U.S. 

Dr. John R. Clifford (Courtesy of USDA)

He delivered the comments in one of a series of presentations in the Global Health Summit at the AVMA Annual Convention, which was July 25-29 in Denver. The presentations focused on veterinarians’ roles in disaster management and response throughout the world. 

Dr. Clifford said the USDA did not know a new coronavirus was infecting pigs until after it had been in the U.S. at least 30 days and was present in four states. The pig that may have been the index case tested negative for transmissible gastroenteritis, which causes similar clinical signs, and the cause was not soon found.

“For us to have an effective system—an early warning system—we have to have effective diagnostics,” Dr. Clifford said. “So, if we have morbidity or mortality events of significance, we need to be able to help provide the support and funding to make sure that we’ve made every effort possible to identify the causative agent.”

Dr. Clifford said that halting animal transport in response to a disease outbreak can harm industries and animals. If a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak were to occur in Iowa, for example, “Where are all the baby pigs going to go that are produced in the state of North Carolina?” he asked.

In that example, a facility in North Carolina could be unable to continue holding the pigs that were supposed to travel to Iowa, and the pigs might be killed.

Dr. Clifford wants a new approach to disease response that quickly provides resources for diagnostics related to harmful animal diseases and includes immediate hold orders for animals considered to be early and index cases. In the absence of rapid investigation of an index case, APHIS has difficulty in finding a disease source, he said.

As animal disease risks grow, APHIS needs to change with those risks, he said.