Tavis Anderson of the USDA Influenza A Virus in Swine Surveillance Program works closely with veterinarians to monitor endemic and emerging Influenza A viruses in swine nationally.
“All of these data are housed and are publicly accessible as part of the surveillance program,” Anderson says. “From these data, we can look at the genetic sequence information, specifically two major glycoproteins. These are the surface proteins of flu – hemagglutinin and neuraminidase – and the two major components of vaccines.”
Because of immune pressure, he says the viruses drift, meaning they accrue mutations that over time, become substantially and significantly different.
“In addition, these viruses, once they’re in the host, have the potential to reassort,” he adds. “They can pick up novel gene segments during a co-infection. So we get antigenic drift and antigenic shift driving what’s going on.”
The USDA surveillance program allows them to detect when viruses have significantly drifted or shifted, helping producers and veterinarians make more informed decisions.
A Nimble Response
O’Brien says surveillance is key to being able to understand influenza and develop a strategy to combat this profit-robbing disease.
“Technology allows us to be more nimble with the IAV solutions we can offer to help producers,” she says. “Flu evolves so quickly and we have seen it become so divergent and prevalent over recent years that many of the tools we used to employ to control IAV on our farms are no longer as effective. If this was a chess match, I would say flu is currently winning. But, I’m a glass half-full individual and I’m not going to admit defeat as I strongly believe that with continued research on effective stabilization programs combined with newer vaccine technologies we can turn the tide on the IAV pressures we are currently faced with.”
As technologies improve, O’Brien believes diagnostic monitoring will increase as population sampling methods improve to allow for more convenient sample collection and increased sensitivity of detection.
“I am pleased to see more active conversation and efforts around flu amongst producers and veterinarians in the last year. There is a heightened awareness that we need to understand what we are dealing with on our farms,” O’Brien says. “People want to be proactive and they want to improve their current IAV situation.”
More from Farm Journal's PORK: