New animal disease reporting rules may arrive this year

Proposal would require immediate reports for dangerous diseases

Federal animal health officials continue developing a national animal disease reporting system and may publish the program’s rules within six months.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in March 2020 published draft standards for the proposed U.S. National List of Reportable Animal Diseases. In response to an inquiry from AVMA News, APHIS spokesman Mike Stepien said in a message that agency officials are working on the final rule and aiming for publication in 2022.

“APHIS will work with stakeholders to implement the NLRAD rule on a timeline that ensures maximum participation and success,” he said.

Canada geese in flight
Highly pathogenic avian influenza is among the diseases that would be subject to mandatory reporting under the National List of Reportable Animal Diseases, the rules for which may be published this year.

The AVMA, other organizations representing veterinarians, and stakeholders representing agriculture industries expressed support for the NLRAD concept and identified specific issues or provisions that they would like to see addressed in greater detail by the final regulations. The agency sought those comments after publishing the draft standards in 2020.

The U.S. already has the National Animal Health Reporting System, a voluntary system through which state animal health officials report monthly on World Organisation for Animal Health–reportable diseases and some other animal diseases considered important. The NLRAD regulations would add mandatory disease reporting across the U.S. with immediate notification to APHIS and state animal health officials.

Stepien said the NLRAD would help APHIS respond to emerging pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, because it would give APHIS authority to require national disease reporting of infections in animals.

“The information gathered through NLRAD will provide a national baseline of animal disease across the U.S. and improve early disease detection and response, including emerging pathogens with zoonotic potential like SARS-CoV-2,” he said.

The draft rule indicates APHIS officials plan to include two tiers of diseases. One tier is for notifiable diseases and conditions for which the agency will require immediate reports when veterinarians or other animal health professionals suspect or identify cases. The other tier is for monitored diseases that state agencies and animal health diagnostic laboratories will describe in monthly reports.

“If you suspect an emerging animal disease, you must report it as soon as you think an animal or groups of animals are infected,” the draft rule states. “This awareness may be through observation of case-compatible clinical signs, laboratory test–positive samples, or other knowledge of infection.”

The proposed list of reportable diseases published in 2020 is still based on the World Organisation of Animal Health list of reportable animal diseases. While the contents of the proposed list are focused on diseases of farm animals, it includes some diseases that affect companion animals, zoo animals, and wildlife, as well as endangered agricultural animals.

“The purpose of the NLRAD is to have consistent animal disease reporting across the United States and to help animal health officials protect the U.S. agriculture infrastructure,” the draft standards state.

The NLRAD requirements would support trade and international disease reporting obligations as well as aid responses to emerging diseases, the document states.

Stepien said in his message that APHIS’ ongoing preparations for the NLRAD include reaching out to stakeholders and communicating with them about the program as well as outlining the roles, responsibilities, and expectations that will come with the program.

Examples of notifiable diseases listed by the NLRAD would include highly pathogenic avian influenza, an H5N1 strain of which has killed tens of millions of poultry in an epizootic across much of North America this year; chronic wasting disease, which is a neurodegenerative disease spreading among cervids across the U.S. and Canada; rabbit hemorrhagic disease, which has killed unknown numbers of rabbits and hares in the Western U.S. in recent years; and African swine fever, a highly contagious disease that can kill entire herds and emerged last year in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

In response to the NLRAD proposal, AVMA CEO Dr. Janet Donlin wrote in May 2020 that the Association supports development and implementation of a national list of reportable animal diseases. But she requested that the agency define in the regulations the formal training needed for accurate presumptive diagnosis of a reportable animal disease, develop a single portal for filing reports with state and federal officials rather than requiring dual reporting, and ensure the NLRAD does not fracture existing surveillance systems or burden state agencies with duplicative work.

A May 2020 letter from the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials, which represents state veterinarians, similarly calls for a definition of formal training for animal health professionals and a single reporting system. That letter also asks that the rules address reporting of notifiable diseases found in wildlife, more precisely define immediate reporting, clarify how the reporting rules will be enforced, incorporate exotic parasites into the reportable disease list, and consider adding diseases of concern identified by the American Fisheries society.

Other organizations, such as the National Milk Producers Federation and Texas Cattle Feeders Association, also asked that the regulations address confidentiality and privacy concerns connected with disease reporting.

A version of this article appears in the August 2022 print issue of JAVMA.