State and federal departments of agriculture provide systems for the recording of disease events within jurisdictions. Much of the electronically recorded material is from laboratory samples and information about disease from control and eradication programs (e.g., results of on-farm testing such as tuberculous skin tests), but electronic systems are being developed to capture observational data.
Public practice veterinarians use government veterinary laboratories for the diagnosis of animal disease. These laboratories undertake much of the testing of samples required for demonstrating freedom from disease for trade purposes and control and eradication programs for individual pathogens, as well as for investigating unusual disease events or suspected occurrences of exotic animal disease. Again, standardized laboratory coding systems do not exist, and little aggregation of raw data between jurisdictions is present. These factors combine to present a major hurdle to the successful aggregation of veterinary laboratory data into an integrated biosurveillance system. The USDA and the AAVLD are developing the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). This will allow the aggregation of data by integrating the veterinary diagnostic laboratories and standardizing the laboratory codes.
As explained in Section IV, "Animal Health Data,'' the NAHRS is a mechanism for state, federal, and university veterinary laboratories to report monthly on the presence or absence of disease. In addition, information/data from universities contribute to OIE reports. The newly formed NSU within the USDA CEAH is working toward improving integration and coordination of the various surveillance projects and reporting systems, as well as management of other surveillance activities, such as national eradication programs.
The Federal and state departments of agriculture are developing a register of all livestock premises and individual animals—the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Essentially, the system identifies premises, identifies individual animals, and records movements of animals to and from premises. The purpose of centralizing this data is to allow authorities to rapidly locate animals and to identify their contacts in an outbreak, thereby reducing the risk of spread and increasing likelihood of eradication or control. Database development is occurring through consultation between government departments and industry (http://animalid.aphis. usda.gov/nais/about/plan.shtml).
Veterinarians involved in animal inspection at processing plants record observations on animal for slaughter. Until recently, this involved standardized paper forms. The forms from inspections at abattoirs were sent to a data entry facility in Des Moines, Iowa, at the end of each workweek. These observations include number of tumors found, condition of skin and muscle, presence of pneumonia or other infection, and presence of injuries. The forms sent to Des Moines are not complete history and physical examination records, rather they were lists of anomalies found in each animal. The forms themselves are pathology oriented. The FSIS has a database that captures all carcass (or part thereof) condemnation reasons and when the condemnation occurred. All forms were submitted over the weekend, and data from them appeared in USDA's database the following Monday. Thus, the newest data in the database were 72 hours old; the oldest data (from that week) were 10 days old. Until recently, the database itself was housed on a minicomputer running an aging, proprietary, hierarchical database, posing potential difficulties for adapting the system to public health surveillance purposes.The system's design, its age, its range of time lags, and the current absence of EVRs in the slaughterhouses tend to limit the usefulness of the USDA's legacy database in the detection of bioterrorism.
In February 2004, The USDA's FSIS began deployment of a new electronic data system operational in real time. This system is the Electronic Animal Disposition Reporting System (eADRS) for recording pre- and postmortem examination of cattle, swine, sheep, and goats. Poultry inspectors still use paper-based submission however (United States Department of Agriculture, 2005a). As these data include information regarding carcasses, it is accurate and reliable although not oriented toward infectious diseases per se. The marginal cost to the government for using FSIS data for public health purposes is modest. Given interagency cooperation, public health agencies should be able to set up their own views into the database and perform surveillance and signal detection.
Laboratory data returned from the NVSL would be available to public health, with a lag time corresponding to the time required for shipping and processing a specimen and arriving at a reportable result.
State agriculture departments are currently in various stages of reporting system deployment. For example, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has deployed the New York State Animal Incident Notification and Tracking System (NYSAINTS) a Web-based reporting tool, database, and guide to reportable animal diseases (New York State Department of Agriculture and Meats, 2005). The State of California's Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) intends to develop and deploy such a system in the future (K. Fowler, personal communication, 2005). Other states in the midwest, including Kansas and Nebraska, are working on systems that harness the Internet to create secure communication and data networks for veterinarians who care for food animals.
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