Considering risks after colleagues’ battle

Cattle veterinarian leaders watching effects of pig disease
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Watching the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus spread through the swine industry, Dr. Daniel L. Grooms has seen opportunities to improve disease prevention in cattle.

Photo by Greg Cima

The devastation caused by the PED virus, counted in millions of neonatal pig deaths since spring 2013, clearly illustrates the potential impact of foreign animal diseases. Dr. Grooms, the president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and a professor at Michigan State University, said cattle veterinarians cannot be complacent because such diseases exist in all livestock species.

“Looking at things such as what’s happening with the PEDv in the swine industry makes us step back and think about things that we can do to continuously improve bio­security and thus the management of infectious diseases of all cattle operations,” Dr. Grooms said.

Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, hopes and expects PED has been a wake-up call for everyone who works in agriculture.

“If it can happen in the swine industry, it certainly could happen in the bovine or poultry world as well,” he said.

Fortifying against disease

In 25 years as a veterinarian, Dr. Grooms has seen disease control improve in the cattle industry through better testing, animal isolation, and cleaning and disinfection, among other changes. But he noted that the PED virus entered well-managed swine farms and that the swine and poultry industries, which largely use indoor housing, employ more biosecurity measures against microorganisms than do cattle industries.

He is not recommending implementing the same degree of security as the swine industry, but he thinks cattle veterinarians, as trusted scientific advisers, can help clients make improvements.

“We’re never going to eliminate risk, but the goal should be to continue to look at ways to reduce risk,” he said.

For example, he sees potential for veterinarians to examine where vehicles and people enter farms and recommend closing some entrances and posting signs at remaining ones to tell visitors what disease control measures to take on entry.

We’re never going to eliminate risk, but the goal should be to continue to look at ways to reduce risk.

-Dr. Daniel L. Grooms, president, American Association of Bovine Practitioners

Dr. Burkgren described PED as a disease that “exposed our weaknesses in biosecurity,” an area in which small mistakes can cause big trouble. Not only do visitors need to follow security protocols, but also, veterinarians and their clients need to scrutinize the histories of items entering farms, including boxes, pallets, and trucks.

Neither U.S. nor international health authorities required notification about PED outbreaks during 2013, the first year infections were found in U.S. pigs. And it wasn’t until April 2014 that Department of Agriculture officials announced an impending federal order that would require reports when the disease is detected (see article).

Dr. Jessica Laurin, a veterinarian in Kansas and the president-elect of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, an organization of beef cattle veterinarians, said veterinarians are looking more closely at imported fomites than they did in the past. And officials with the USDA warn those in the beef industry about foreign disease risks.

While diseases such as foot-and-mouth and bovine spongiform encephalopathy are priorities, Dr. Laurin said, “As an industry, we may have to continue to watch diseases that are not listed as high-priority foreign animal disease risks.” She cited the disease caused by the Schmallenberg virus as an example.

Even moving cattle within the U.S. presents disease risks, and veterinarians need to know about the variety of pathogens throughout the country, she said.

Dr. Grooms also said the likelihood that a foreign pathogen will enter the U.S. through goods, animals, or people is increasing as trade and travel expands. To protect livestock against known and undiscovered pathogens, he said veterinarians need not just to act against specific pathogens, but also to improve overall biosecurity.

Drs. Kathy Simmons, chief veterinarian for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Dale Grotelueschen, chairman of the NCBA working group on herd security and bovine viral diarrhea, provided JAVMA a joint statement that said the PED outbreak has reminded the beef cattle industry and other industry groups about the need to continue increasing abilities in surveillance, herd monitoring, and animal movement tracking. Outbreaks can disrupt commerce as well as have harmful effects on trade, commodity prices, and markets for related goods, such as grain.

Veterinarians and risk audits

Dr. Grooms also wrote in a recent column for AABP members that the cattle industry “could very easily” experience an outbreak similar to that of PED, and veterinarians should discuss that risk with clients.

“In fact, when is the last time you talked with a client about ways to reduce biological risks?” he wrote. “In today’s world of tight profit margins and increasing infectious disease risks because of the global world we live in, discussing biosecurity practices is something we should be doing regularly with clients.”

He suggested offering a risk audit for clients and consulting resources compiled by the AABP Biological Risk Management and Preparedness Committee, available to AABP members at

Dr. Laurin noted that survey results published in 2011 by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service indicated 85 percent of cattle owners “very likely” would contact a veterinarian if they suspected one of their animals had FMD or another foreign animal disease. Another 10 percent were “somewhat likely” to contact a veterinarian.

The survey results also indicate more than half of cattle owners polled knew little or nothing about diseases such as Johne’s disease (paratuberculosis), bluetongue, and vesicular stomatitis. Barely more than half said they had at least basic information on anthrax and bovine tuberculosis.

Dr. Burkgren said an AASV committee is trying to determine which foreign pathogens of pigs—most of which are viruses—should be considered priorities for prevention efforts. The likelihood U.S. pigs would become infected and the potential impact of infection will determine which pathogens will receive their focused interest “simply because we don’t have the resources to worry about all of them.”

The swine industry also is working to reduce weaknesses in barriers to disease entry, he said, and that includes work with the USDA to close pathways for pathogens to enter the country.

Related JAVMA content:

More virus strains found in pigs (April 1, 2014)

USDA to require reports of PED (June 1, 2014)