Recommendation 3.4: Use knowledge of complex biological patterns and high-throughput laboratory automation to classify and diagnose infections in patients in primary care settings.

Agricultural Surveillance and Diagnosis

The protection of the nation’s food supply presents several unique challenges related to surveillance and diagnosis of disease. The U.S. livestock industry, with revenues of approximately $150 billion annually, is extremely vulnerable to a host of highly infectious and often contagious biological agents (insects and other pests, viruses, and microbes) that have been eradicated from the United States. Unlike traditional biological agents that can be used against humans, many of these animal-targeted agents need not be weaponized to cause an outbreak. Their simple point-introduction into herds could immediately halt all movement and export of U.S. livestock and livestock products.

Although most agents that affect animals are not human pathogens, introduction of any of the agents on the A List of the World Organisation for Animal Health would have wide-ranging and devastating impacts on the U.S. economy—not to mention psychological effects on the country’s human population—from which it could take years to recover. These disease agents are readily available in many countries. Although USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as currently constituted, has proven adequate for naturally occurring disease, it would probably be unable to help eradicate intentional introduction, especially if this were done at multiple sites. There is a need for USDA to develop a research and surveillance capability for plant and animal diseases comparable to the one that CDC oversees for human diseases.

Animal agriculture would seem to be increasingly vulnerable to intentional biological attacks, given recent trends toward concentration and specialization in the livestock industries (MacDonald et al., 1999). For example, tens of thousands of animals can be housed in relatively close quarters in concentrated feedlots prior to slaughter. If the introduced agent is highly contagious, as is the foot-and-mouth disease virus, this concentration creates the potential for greater impact from a single infected animal, as aerosol transmission of pathogens is common within herds. Likewise, animals move across great geographic distances. For example, during September 2001, nearly a million of the swine imported into Iowa came from 24 states and Canada (communication from the Iowa State Department of Agriculture).

Given these vulnerabilities, there is a need to recognize an infected animal immediately. At present, however, although there are well-operated state and federal animal diagnostic laboratories, there is no integrated national system that can report diseases and infestations electronically in real time. In addition, there are no rapid field diagnostic assays for most animal pathogens and pests.

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