Using Geospatial Mapping to Track Livestock Diseases


By Successful Farming Staff - 11/4/2019


Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) are using geospatial information systems (GIS) to pinpoint current and emerging swine and poultry disease hotspots, sharing information about outbreaks with producers, and strategizing community approaches to control potentially devastating diseases.


Run by Penn Vet’s Dr. Meghann Pierdon, the program uses the GIS data to update a secure website with a map that illustrates, in near-real time regions, where pigs or birds have tested for disease and identify areas that may be at risk. The database is updated quarterly to be sure everything is accurate and communication is open to producers. 


 In 2012, nearly a quarter of the swine monitored by Penn Vet’s swine disease mapping program, called the Pennsylvania Regional Control Program (PRCP), were on farms testing positive for disease. Since participating in the PRCP, which is operated by Pierdon and funded by the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council, that number has declined to 15%.


As a result of its success, industry participation in the PRCP has doubled to include more than 100 farmer, hauler, feed and genetics companies and veterinarian members across the Commonwealth.


The idea is to provide usable data so farmers can take the information and make informed production decisions. 


 “For example, we can set up protected zones where we only want negative pigs,” says Pierdon. “Producers can then make appropriate decisions based on that information – such as being careful if buying feeders from infected area or preventing a feed truck that was on a farm with active disease from going directly to their farm – to help cuts the disease spread."


The swine diseases Pierdon has tracked include porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome (PRRS) and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED).


Most of the GIS data is drawn from Pennsylvania farms but, since neither commerce nor disease heed state lines, she also gathers information from Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.  On the pig side, a vet or producer fills in a template with basic data like the farm’s address, where the pigs came from and where they will go next...


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