Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identifying an outbreak of a novel swine disease using test requests for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome as a syndromic surveillance tool

Terri L O’Sullivan1*, Robert M Friendship1, David L Pearl1, Beverly McEwen2 and Catherine E Dewey1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada

2 Animal Health Laboratory, Laboratory Services Division, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1H, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Veterinary Research 2012, 8:192  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-8-192

Published: 16 October 2012



Animal disease monitoring and surveillance are crucial for ensuring the health of animals, humans and the environment. Many studies have investigated the utility of monitoring syndromes associated with data from veterinary laboratory submissions, but no research has focused on how negative test results from a veterinary diagnostic laboratory data can be used to improve our knowledge of disease outbreaks. For example, if a diagnostic laboratory was seeing a disproportionate number of negative test results for a known disease could this information be an indication of a novel disease outbreak? The objective of this study was to determine the association between the porcine circovirus associated disease (PCVAD) outbreak in Ontario 2004–2006 and the results of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PPRSV) enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the results of PRRSV polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests requested by veterinarians.


Retrospective data were collected from the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario Canada and were comprised of weekly counts of PRRSV ELISA and PRRSV PCR diagnostic tests requested by swine practitioners from 2000–2007. The results of the PRRSV ELISA and PRRSV PCRs were analysed separately in two models using logistic regression with the dependent variables being: the weekly probability of PRRSV ELISA positivity, and the weekly probability of PRRSV PCR positivity, respectively. The weekly probability of PRRSV PCR positivity decreased during the PVCAD outbreak (OR=0.66, P=0.01). The weekly probability of PRRSV ELISA positivity was not associated with the PCVAD outbreak.


The results of this study showed that during the PCVAD outbreak in Ontario from December 2004-May 2006, the probability of a positive PRRSV PCR at the AHL decreased. We conclude that when a decrease in test positivity occurs for a known disease, it may suggest that a new disease agent is emerging in the population. Hence, monitoring the test results of commonly used first-order tests for a known disease (e.g. PRRSV) has the potential to be a unique form of syndromic data for the timely identification of novel disease outbreaks in swine populations.

Swine; Disease surveillance; Laboratory data; Syndromic surveillance; Diagnostic test requests; Test results