A revolution in disease outbreak control

21-04-2016 | |
A revolution in disease outbreak control

Fast disease outbreak management and protection of herd health can now be achieved by 2 new systems that combine smartphone apps, powerful software and GPS technology. The systems will soon be available to dairy farms.

The 2 new patented biosecurity systems; for halting disease outbreaks and for better protecting herd health, have been introduced to officials in the United Kingdom, having already been successfully rolled out over the winter in Ontario, Canada.

Presentations on ‘Be Seen, Be Safe’ and ‘Farm Health Monitor’ were recently given by Canadian inventors Tim Nelson and Joel Sotomayor to the UK Cattle Health and Welfare Group and other UK livestock and poultry groups, with further meetings planned. Mr Nelson was also invited recently to present on the systems at Canada’s Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Nelson developed the systems because he wanted better disease management to be available to the industry. In 2015, there were outbreaks of Bluetongue reported in France, Italy and eastern Europe, and experts say there is an 80% risk of it reaching the UK by September. One case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was confirmed in France in March 2016. The threat of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, which persists in Africa, is also a concern. Although Foot and Mouth Disease has not caused an outbreak in the UK since 2007, it is highly infectious and can be caught from direct contact with an infected cow, pig or sheep. The disease can also pass indirectly through equipment, vehicles, humans and clothing, mud and bedding and other things that have been in contact with infected animals.

How ‘Be Seen, Be Safe’ works

To effectively contain an outbreak, farms must be quickly quarantined and traffic to and from infected or potentially-infected farms must also be tracked quickly. However, using the telephone or emails to do this has its limitations, especially in quickly identifying individuals or vehicles that may have spread the disease. Using farm visitor log books to track movement is slow to the point of being almost pointless in an emergency. This is why Nelson created ‘Be Seen Be Safe’ (BSBS) – to provide the industry with a way to instantly analyse farm visit data so that outbreaks can be contained rapidly. Before the system is turned on in any jurisdiction, the geographical boundary of each dairy, poultry or swine farm in the area is mapped with GPS technology called ‘geo-fencing.’ During the same period of time, anyone who regularly visits these farms – veterinarians, feed delivery persons, salespersons and so on – downloads the encrypted BSBS smart phone app. The system then goes live. Anytime a system-ready smartphone or tablet (or the GPS beacon on vehicles that regularly travel to farms) enters a geo-fenced farm property, BSBS is automatically triggered and the visitor is ‘greeted’ with a welcome message. At the same moment, the farmer is instantly notified of a visitor’s arrival (information on all visits to that farm is stored in an online visitor record book which farmers can access at any time using a secure personal login). The encrypted BSBS database stores farm visit information for one year, which includes farm ID, visitor ID, number of farms visited in the recent past (a risk assessment level), time in and time out. “The geo-fencing aspect of the system means that only on-farm visits are logged, not every movement of an individual or vehicle, which protects personal privacy,” Nelson explains. “In addition, the identity of individual visitors and farms are only accessed by authorised system administrators in an emergency outbreak situation.” When an outbreak hits, the BSBS software analyses the entire database of visitor and vehicle movements at lightning speed, starting with a specific flagged farm. Disease spread is mapped and extrapolated in real time, with factors like wind speed and direction, humidity and temperature added to the map. Farmers and visitors are immediately notified by text message that there is a problem, and asked to implement quarantine and other biosecurity measures.

  • Anytime a system-ready smartphone or tablet enters a geo-fenced farm  property, BSBS is automatically triggered and the visitor is 'greeted'  with a welcome message. At the same moment, the farmer is instantly  notified of a visitor's arrival.

    Anytime a system-ready smartphone or tablet enters a geo-fenced farm property, BSBS is automatically triggered and the visitor is ‘greeted’ with a welcome message. At the same moment, the farmer is instantly notified of a visitor’s arrival.

Putting the pieces together

‘Be Seen, Be Safe’ has been rolled out in Ontario over the winter, with the involvement of over 800 geo-fenced farms and over 1,200 people and vehicles. Every producer belonging to Egg Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg & Chick Commission and the Turkey Farmers of Ontario are taking part. These associations have paid the first 2 years’ nominal cost for each farm for initial geo-fencing and monitoring, with 75% of that cost being reimbursed by a Canadian government grant. Nelson says support for the system has been overwhelming in Ontario, with everyone understanding that BSBS is no more intrusive than what came before (physically signing a farm visitor log book). The BSBS app is available on all 3 main smartphone platforms: BlackBerry, Android and IOS. It causes no battery drain and involves very minimal internet usage as it only runs for a split-second when device carrying the app crosses a geo-fenced property.

Prairie Swine Centre (Canada) president and CEO Lee Whittington says BSBS fits well with the psychology of biosecurity of the pork industry. “It’s one more line of defense, and helps to take the cumbersomeness out of a biosecurity system,” he observes. “The tedious manual log book system is often inaccurate and there is an immediate benefit for the producer in that BSBS provides a permanent, accurate record of who visited the farm.” Whittington also sees another benefit in the system, relating to the fact that farm ownership in Canada and other places has changed. “It used to be that the family farm was one farm entered through one gate,” he says, “but now farms have multiple sites and it’s much harder to keep an eye on things.”

Whittington believes this type of technology represents what’s happening in other segments of society and industry sectors. “Geofencing existed, but Tim put the pieces together,” he notes. “Everyone has smartphones now and this system uses them but protects overall privacy. The mentality today is ‘I want the data immediately and at little or no cost,’ and ‘Be Seen, Be Safe’ fits with that.”

Farm Health Monitor – early warning system for outbreaks

A dairy version of another system called ‘Farm Health Monitor’ (FHM) is currently under development by Nelson and Sotomayor. FHM enables farmers and veterinarians in a given area to better contain and manage production-limiting diseases. Like BSBS, FHM also involves a secure smartphone app where farmers and vets can input information on disease symptoms and/or animal deaths. If similar information is reported on 2 or more farms, FHM sends out a blanket warning across the region, prompting producers and vets to check herds or flocks carefully and to report as necessary. Nelson calls it “a true early warning system.” The poultry FHM app is being trialed right now, with the swine version ready for trial. The ability to upload images and a short video is being added.

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Treena Hein Correspondent