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NA PRRS Symposium: alarm bells going off to find solutions for ASF

Dr Bob Rowland shares two big headlines from the Symposium.

26 November 2019, at 11:15pm

Dr Bob Rowland, co-executive director of the North American PRRS Symposium, shares two big headlines from the conference and explains how the conference has evolved to include more that Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS).

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“I think there're really two big headlines. One is that PRRS is still with us, and it's still having an impact on the industry and there are still a lot of things we don't know,” said Dr Rowland. “If there's a second headline is that African Swine Fever (ASF) can't be far behind. You almost see the alarm bells going off in terms of industry, producers and scientists really creating a sense of urgency to find solutions for ASF.”

For many years, the North American PRRS Symposium has addressed more than just PRRS.

“We are the conference that looks at the bugaboos that plague the swine industry, so any emerging disease issues, we really like to be on top of it, if not a little bit ahead of the game,” he said. “We've been doing ASF talks for the last couple of years even before the appearance of ASF in China. In terms of the infectious disease world, we like to be just a little ahead of the curve.

Scientists from around the globe, not just North America, attend the Symposium to share research and ideas about emerging and ongoing diseases. The program offers two platforms – one is to discuss the latest research to develop some collaborative efforts, and two is to educate the larger research community.

Researching and diagnosing disease challenges

“It's really hard to talk about the unknown - what we haven't seen yet - but we can begin to talk about disease solutions and beyond. Things such as vaccines and producing vaccines much more rapidly to be responsive to the next emerging disease and also looking at genetic solutions,” he explained. “Right now, some of the hot topics are genetically modified pigs. Can we really get ahead of the infectious disease curve by modifying pigs so that they could be broadly resistant to multiple infectious agents?”

Diagnostics play an important role in being able to identify new and existing diseases.

“The best example is ASF - we have really good diagnostics that can diagnose an infected pig. But we really have to think about 'Fortress America,' and how do we develop the surveillance strategies so that we can do broad surveillance, maybe actually test every pig sampled in the United States for the presence of ASF. So those may be some of the challenges that are facing us in the future.”

Why don't we have an ASF vaccine yet?

“We haven't had an ASF vaccine in 60 years of people working on it. What you see now is people stepping back and asking some basic questions like what is protection and how can we rethink vaccination so we can get protection,” he explained. “We are seeing some of the old ideas that are still being pursued, and there are certainly some far-reaching approaches in terms of genetics. The question is, do we really need to step back and rethink the immune response to African Swine Fever?”