Cattle rancher with tablet computer

DHS expands animal disease surveillance project

Monitoring the safety of the nation’s food supply begins with early detection of potential disease outbreaks or changes in animal health status. Tracking, analyzing and sharing that information can help ensure the health of animals in the global agricultural market.

Over the next three years, possible animal disease outbreaks in at least 15 states and all major animal industries will be tracked using the Enhanced Passive Surveillance (EPS) system.

Developed by The National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZD Center), a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, EPS is designed to help those working with animals easily report potential disease outbreaks or changes in animal health.

The system enables users to enter animal health information with iPads, which is then integrated with data from veterinary diagnostic laboratories, wildlife biologists and livestock markets. The data is monitored and analyzed using the AgConnect system, the FAZD Center’s suite of customizable data integration and analysis products for real-time data awareness in the event of emerging, zoonotic and/or high consequence diseases. EPS data can also be analyzed using automated visual, geospatial, and temporal analysis tools within AgConnect.

“EPS leverages veterinarians in the field for reporting on animal health at the time they are observing or treating animals,” said Dr. Lindsey Holmstrom, DVM and FAZD Center research scientist in a January FAZD Center website posting. “This is a unique and critical data source for supporting animal health and disease surveillance that we previously did not have available in real-time. The system also provides information back to veterinarians from others reporting into the system, based on established data sharing protocols, which increases their awareness of the disease status in their geographic area.”

The goal of EPS is to provide surveillance information to emergency managers, state animal health officials and veterinarians during a disease outbreak, including identifying where the outbreaks are located and areas that are disease-free.

“EPS allows us to put mobile technologies in veterinarian’s hands and collect animal health data at local, regional or national levels.  This allows the integration of surveillance data into a common display for early detection of emerging and high-consequence disease outbreaks,” said Tammy R. Beckham, FAZD Center director.

EPS was initially piloted in four states —Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas — with  plans to expand the system to at least 15 states over the next three years. The expansion of the testing, Phase II, is funded through $2 million in federal funds from the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. The project has the potential for a nearly $9 million investment over the next three years. All major U.S. animal industries - horses, sheep, goats, beef and dairy cattle, swine and poultry – as well as wildlife (e.g., deer, feral swine, and wild birds) are tracked under EPS in Phase II.

In addition to expanding the types of animals tracked, Phase II increases the user base, adding producers, agriculture company veterinarians and production managers, as well as  wildlife sources, such as wildlife biologists and organizations. Both producers and veterinarians can access the real-time data. FAZD also plans to expand the mobile platforms on which EPS can be accessed and add apps customized for specific industries.

“Ultimately, this project will demonstrate the power of data integration and aggregation,” said Dr. Beckham. With EPS, health monitors in the United States “will ultimately have a tool that will allow them to have real time situational awareness and ultimately defend our food supply from disease outbreaks through low-cost technology and real-time reporting.” 

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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