Federal animal health officials have decided that a serious disease of swine — that has already killed 7 million baby pigs or 10 percent of the nation's swine population — should be considered a reportable disease.
"I think in hindsight officials are feeling that it could have been managed better," State Veterinarian Dr. Paul McGraw said.
The novel swine enteric corona virus and the porcine epidemic diarrheas virus (PEDv) have been found in 30 states and affected thousands of producers, he noted, yet officials still have no idea how the swine virus got here.
In a report to members of the citizen policy board for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection last week, McGraw said that the DNA strain of the PED virus matches one that caused an outbreak in China. It hadn't been seen in U.S. hogs before that.
China also has foot and mouth disease (FMD), which causes greater concern, especially when officials can't put their finger on how the hog disease got here.
Because PED was not reportable at the time of the outbreak, there was really no way to go back and figure out things like where it started and how it got here.
McGraw said the PED virus is much hardier than the one that causes FMD. The hog virus was isolated in U.S. pigs in May 2013.
Reportable means that when it occurs, state and federal animal health officials are notified.
McGraw said he doesn't really know how many Wisconsin farms were affected because until now he didn't have to be notified of a positive test result on a farm here.
What he can say is that there were 18 positive lab tests from state farms; but he added that they could have come from four farms, or a dozen. At the most it would be 18 farms.
McGraw served on a task force to determine what changes should be made to combat the disease.
On June 5, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued an order declaring the novel swine enteric viruses reportable, in response to the work of the task force and the outbreak's impacts.
"If you've bought bacon lately I'm sure you've noticed some price issues there," McGraw commented to board members.
A reportable disease is one that the herd owner, herd veterinarian, laboratory personnel or others with knowledge of the disease must report to federal and state animal health officials once lab tests determine the herd is affected.
Certain pieces of information must be included in the report to officials — premises location, date of sample collection, type of unit sampled, test methods use to the make the diagnosis and results.
"This works very well with our premises identification program," McGraw said.
Since the disease became reportable at the beginning of June there have not been any reports in Wisconsin and nationally there have been only 16 new reports, he told the board. "But this is the time of year you'd expect the incidence to go down."
McGraw explained that the federal reportability requirement applies to the PED virus and the porcine delta corona virus and other novel swine enteric corona viruses that cause the same symptoms.
All of the newly named reportable viruses can cause significant morbidity and mortality, especially in young piglets.
When this disease hit farms, up to 90 percent of the baby pigs were dying for three weeks.
Dr. John Clifford, with the USDA, has said the PED outbreak is looking less likely to have come from feed that was infected and more likely to have come from some other pathway.
McGraw said if they knew what farm the disease started on it would be much easier to conduct an investigation, but by the time the labs had identified it several farms were affected and it was impossible to find that "index" herd.
Veterinarians and herd owners at first thought they were dealing with a more run-of-the-mill hog disease.
Ben Brancel, secretary at DATCP, said he had a chance to visit with Clifford, who told him that the outbreak has spurred a lot of scientific interest. One question is whether or not these novel viruses could survive travel in nasal passages.
"It has become an interest of public health officials to understand this. They think it might affect human health," Brancel said.
"A lot of veterinarians travel and do consultation. There a lot of opportunity," added McGraw.
McGraw also told the board that his division continues to work with emergency management planning officials to determine how milk could continue to be moved in Wisconsin in case of a serious disease outbreak in cattle, like FMD.
Officials held exercises in May in Appleton and Madison to work out how the "secure milk supply" could be handled.
There were more than 100 participants from industry, government and stakeholder groups, he said, who worked on how they could move milk safely in case of a serious disease outbreak.
Planning continues for a winter 2015 exercise.
Part of the planning also involves testing the ability of veterinarians to keep vaccines used in an outbreak of FMD viable in the face of freezing temperatures, which would not be uncommon in Wisconsin in the winter.
There's a national veterinary stockpile of vaccines and equipment that could be mobilized in case of an outbreak. Officials from Georgia, where that stockpile is located, plan to come to Wisconsin in January for an emergency exercise.
McGraw said state and national veterinary officials collaborate with Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources on logistics.
"Every time you do this you gain a lot of partnerships."
McGraw also briefed the board on what scientists call a reverse zoonosis case of bovine tuberculosis (TB) — meaning cattle got it from a human.
The case involved a North Dakota dairy farm where two heifers were confirmed with bovine TB. It is a closed cattle herd, so investigators began looking at immigrant workers on the farm.
A Mexican worker was confirmed to have the same DNA strain of bovine TB. Investigators from animal health and public health agencies there are certain the cattle infection came from the worker, McGraw said.
"It's a risk. There are lots of ways it can be spread."
The state veterinarian commented that maybe dairy farm operators will need to get their workers tested for this disease.
"We have a working relationship with public health and with the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association. We are contacted if a worker tests positive who is in contact with livestock."
The DNA testing and matching of TB has come a long way, McGraw said, and that allows investigators to pinpoint where an infections has come from.
The bovine strain can affect humans and cattle, he added, while the human strain affects people but does not spread to cattle.
In this unique case out West, the bovine strain was implicated in a human illness and that person then spread it to cattle.