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The NAHLN Quarterly |October 2009| 
Volume 1, No. 3


Founding Principles and Features of the NAHLN 


  • Standardized, rapid diagnostic techniques
  • Trained personnel, modern equipment
  • Quality standards, proficiency testing
  • Secure communication, alert reporting system
  • Adequate facility biosafety/biosecurity levels
  • Scenario testing
  • Implemented quality management system

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In This Issue

A Note from the Coordinator
Upcoming Events  
SIV Surveillance
Follow-up on PRV Surveillance
NAHLN Aids in Zoo Surveillance
New Laboratory Director Feature
WAVLD Symposium
Methods Technical Working Group Update
Getting to Know Us
 NAHLN Facts

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Upcoming Events

52nd Annual AAVLD/USAHA Meeting
October 7-14, 2009
San Diego, California
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A Note from the Coordinator

On August 5, 2009, I celebrated my 5th anniversary as the NAHLN Coordinator.  When I took the position I made a list of the things I felt needed to be accomplished in order for our network to be a vital organization.  The list was more than five hand-written and heartfelt pages.  It covered everything from "a" (accreditation of labs) to "y" (yearly report).  I naively thought that we would be able to accomplish all these things in three years.  In five years, most but not all of those initial goals have been accomplished.  One of the most impressive is that our network is the first network in the nation to be able to send electronic test result messages!  The NAHLN Classical Swine Fever (CSF) messaging system has been in production for a year.  Thanks to the investment and partnership of Wildlife Services, our avian influenza wild bird surveillance module is also in production.  There are currently 15 NAHLN laboratories that are actively messaging into these systems and two of our laboratories anticipate messaging before the end of the month.

IT Messaging

Starting with our next issue, there will updates on the NAHLN IT system including a graphic representation of the laboratories messaging, the number of messages sent, and helpful hints on how to develop messaging capabilities.  
We have two additional regular features that you will see in this and upcoming issues.
The first is a feature on "new" NAHLN Laboratory Directors.  The NAHLN Program Staff made a list of all the Directors that started in their position in the past seven years and sent them an e-mail message asking if they'd like to participate.  We reviewed the submitted information and selected the "new" Director who has been in the position the longest.  If you are a Laboratory Director who started within the past seven years and we missed you, please e-mail us at NAHLN@aphis.usda.gov and we'll be happy to add you to the list. 

Our second feature starting with this issue will introduce you to various people in Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that are involved in the NAHLN.  This issue features Traci Imlau, our NAHLN Program Assistant.  Traci is very patient (she keeps tabs on me), persistent (she keeps me on task), and detail oriented (have you looked at the OIDs charts?).  You'll have a chance to get to know others within APHIS in future issues.
We're always interested in your input!  Please contact us if you have a suggestion for articles or regular features!    
Martin sig line
Barbara M. Martin
NAHLN Coordinator
National Veterinary Services Laboratories 

SIV Surveillance

Veterinary Services (VS) has developed and implemented a surveillance plan for swine influenza virus (SIV), including the pandemic H1N1 2009 virus* (pH1N1), in swine.  The plan is based on the most current information available on this novel influenza virus strain.  Surveillance is aimed at identifying the pH1N1 strain as well as other non-typical strains of SIV in swine.
The immediate goals of the surveillance program are to:

1.  Determine if the pH1N1 virus strain currently exists in U.S. swine;

2.  Determine the distribution, if the pH1N1 strain is present, to inform further policy decisions;

3.  Detect other novel influenza virus strains in swine in a timely manner; and

4.  Determine genetic characteristics of novel viruses necessary for vaccine and diagnostics development.

The surveillance plan will allow for the differentiation of novel influenza virus strains from other circulating endemic strains of SIV, and monitor genetic changes of SIV isolates in pigs with influenza-like illness (ILI).  Although participation in this surveillance program is voluntary, VS highly recommends participation due to the pandemic potential of novel influenza virus infection in people and the subsequent economic impacts to the swine industry.
Currently, much remains unknown about the epidemiology of novel influenza virus strains. Information released by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on May 2 regarding a confirmed pandemic H1N1 2009 virus strain infection in a swine herd in Alberta, Canada, suggested that this particular virus is capable of infecting and causing disease in swine. Subsequent infections in swine herds have since been noted in both Canada and Argentina.  Although the source of the infection of these swine herds remains unknown, current information suggests that the virus moved from humans into swine.  The surveillance plan will be appropriately revised as additional information becomes available.
The current surveillance components of SIV surveillance include:
1)  Surveillance of swine populations epidemiologically linked to a human case of SIV. This surveillance will cover swine populations known to be linked with a human infection of SIV (including the pH1N1 2009 virus strain).  Animal health officials, in cooperation with public health investigators, will collect samples from swine that are known to be linked with a human infection of SIV.  The extent of swine sampling as a result of human exposure will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
2)  Case-compatible swine accessions submitted to veterinary diagnostic laboratories.  This surveillance will cover on-farm swine populations in which pigs are showing ILI signs. Producers, veterinarians, or other personnel who observe pigs on farms should collect and submit samples from pigs showing ILI signs for SIV testing.  Samples from this surveillance stream consist of nasal swabs from live sick pigs or lung tissues from mortalities meeting the case definition criteria for SIV (including the H1N1 flu outbreak virus).  This surveillance is aimed primarily at commercial populations; however, with education and outreach, the surveillance may also target small enterprises.

3)  Surveillance of sick pigs at first points of concentration or commingling events. Example locations would include auction houses, markets, fairs, zoos, and exhibitions.  This surveillance targets primarily small farm and backyard herds.  These are sites with an increased potential for disease spread and/or elevated human exposure.  Animal health officials or licensed veterinarians who observe pigs with ILI at these events should be aware of influenza virus in pigs and the potential for certain strains in humans to infect pigs and vice versa. Samples from pigs showing ILI signs should be submitted for SIV testing.  Samples will consist of nasal swabs or lung tissue if the veterinarian has conducted a post-mortem exam.
Sampling of swine at slaughter or processing facilities is not a component of SIV surveillance at this time.  Swine with signs of ILI that arrive at federally inspected facilities should be handled according to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service standard protocols and procedures.
Samples obtained through these surveillance components will be submitted to approved National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) system laboratories.  Samples will be assayed for swine influenza antigen via a standardized PCR and virus isolation protocol designed to fully characterize isolates for further analysis and assessment.
Although one of the surveillance plan's objectives is timely detection of the presence and distribution of pH1N1 2009 virus strain in U.S. swine to protect public health and swine markets, many of the same principles are used to maintain a broader surveillance effort aimed at all novel swine influenza strains.  The broader surveillance objectives are to:

--Detect changes in the swine influenza virus genome from isolates of sick pig case submissions received by NAHLN-associated diagnostic laboratories from producers and swine veterinarians.  Isolates will be shared with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) per a CDC-USDA interagency agreement.
--Provide geographical and temporal data related to novel genomic sequences of interest to animal and public health officials.
Immediate expected outcomes include:
--Knowledge of the presence and distribution of novel influenza viruses (including H1N1 flu outbreak virus) in U.S. swine populations that can be used to make timely, informed, and scientific decisions about disease control measures, diagnostic reagents, preventative measures, human health implications, and trade negotiations;
--Establishing a baseline for novel SIV genomics in U.S. swine; and
--Aggregating and sharing SIV isolate information that will assist researchers and the animal health industry in developing targeted swine influenza diagnostic assays and effective vaccines.
Long-term outcomes of this effort may include building "One Health" protocols and system capacity for emerging zoonotic SIV viruses as well as other possible emerging pathogens; facilitating further research and understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of SIV infection in swine; and developing a better understanding of epidemiological factors and procedures that either limit or enhance the mutation and spread of SIV in the swine population. 

Official designation by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
Article submitted by Sarah M. Tomlinson, Assistant Director, National Surveillance Unit, Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health, USDA/APHIS/VS, Fort Collins, CO

A Follow up on PRV Surveillance

Pseudorabies (PRV) surveillance is beginning implementation of new surveillance streams.  Recently, USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services (VS) officials have been coordinating plans for pseudorabies implementation in NAHLN laboratories.  In August, a meeting with APHIS officials was held discussing the logistics of piloting PRV serological surveillance in 12 of the 35 PRV NAHLN laboratories.  Testing in these 12 laboratories may begin as early as October.
To assist State and laboratory personnel with understanding the PRV surveillance, implementation, and testing activities, USDA, APHIS, VS officials will distribute a PRV surveillance procedure manual.  This manual, similar to the Classical Swine Fever Surveillance Manual, is expected to be released shortly.  Additionally, USDA is in the process of planning webinars with PRV NALHN testing laboratories to explain PRV surveillance activities.  VS looks forward to starting this testing stream in the NAHLN Laboratories and plans to continue implementation of PRV surveillance streams in the NAHLN system. 
Article submitted by Troy Bigelow, Staff Veterinarian USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Center for Animal Health Programs (NCAHP).
NAHLN Aids in Zoo Surveillance
Zoo Animal Health Network 
USDA/APHIS has teamed up with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to create the Zoo Animal Health Network (ZAHN).  The goal of the ZAHN is to facilitate animal and, where appropriate, public health policy through the collection and analysis of scientific data.  In addition to conducting research on behalf of the USDA and AZA, ZAHN acts as a conduit between AZA and regulatory agencies on health policy matters.  To that end, ZAHN primarily leads research and education initiatives on infectious diseases that affect the health and welfare of zoo animals and patrons, while being integrated into the national animal and public health monitoring infrastructure.
Hottentot Teal from Linzoln Park ZooOne of the first initiatives of ZAHN is the construction of a surveillance system using zoological institutions across the country to detect the presence of avian influenza.  The threat of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has unique significance to zoological institutions, many of whom house critically endangered bird species, including some that no longer exist in the wild.  Expertise from the National Animal Health Laboratory Network's (NAHLN) and National Veterinary Services Laboratories' (NVSL) scientists has allowed ZAHN to standardize its avian influenza data collection, sample testing, and results communication methodologies.  
The pilot for this surveillance system will involve three zoological institutions and three qualified avian influenza NAHLN laboratories that will eventually incorporate HL7 messaging into their results reporting system.  If successful, the program will be opened for additional participants. 
Another integral aspect of the surveillance system is its ability to be quickly adapted to other emerging diseases of concern.  The relationship that has been built between the NAHLN and ZAHN will facilitate the speed at which these changes can be put into place.  This collaboration improves preparedness for emerging disease threats and strengthens the essential link between human and animal health.
If you have any questions about the Zoo Animal Health Network, contact Yvonne Nadler by phone at (312) 742-6600 or by e-mail at ynadler@lpzoo.org.
Participating Laboratories in AI Zoo Surveillance:
Zoological Institutions:
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland, OH
Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL
The Sacramento Zoo, Sacramento, CA
NAHLN Laboratories:
Cornell University, Animal Health Diagnostic Center, Ithaca, NY
University of California at Davis,
California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System, Davis, CA
University of Minnesota,
Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, St. Paul, MN
Article submitted by Julia Chosy, Research Epidemiologist, Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark Street,
Chicago, IL  60614

Featuring a New Laboratory Director to the NAHLN

Dr. Thomas McKenna became Laboratory Director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in March of 2007.  Dr. McKenna holds a B.S. degree from Lehigh University in Business and Economics, a B.S. degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Alaska - Fairbanks, and a D.V.M. (large animal track) as well as a PhD in Microbiology from the University of California - Davis.  From 1994-1995,  Dr. McKenna completed post doc work on recombinant DNA vaccines at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center where he later served as a VMO for the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL), followed by Section Head for the FADDL Diagnostic Services, and ultimately named FADDL Director from 2001-2007.

 Tom Mckenna
Dr. Tom McKenna
Laboratory Director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Dr. McKenna's work on Plum Island, New York for the USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Veterinary Services Laboratories was a highlight in his career.  Plum Island is a unique and exciting place to work, giving him opportunities to travel throughout the United States and the world.  One noteworthy trip was his visit to Mongolia collaborating on their response to an introduction to Foot and Mouth Disease.
In Dr. McKenna's spare time he enjoys doing things with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs, as well as swimming for exercise, and, he quotes, "struggles with the guitar".
The opportunity to be in an academic setting and to broaden his areas of expertise from exotic diseases of livestock to include domestic disease issues is what brought him to the NAHLN Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.
When asked "Why is NAHLN important to you?" he responded:
"Because of my background in foreign animal disease diagnostics and outbreak response, I am keenly aware of the importance of utilizing the strong diagnostic capabilities of the State veterinary diagnostic laboratories in disease surveillance and outbreak response.  Through the NAHLN partnership, USDA laboratories and State veterinary diagnostic laboratories are able to work together in ways which did not exist before the NAHLN was formed.  Federal support for the NAHLN has allowed State veterinary diagnostic laboratories to expand their capabilities, especially in the area of FAD diagnostics.  This results in better protection of U.S. livestock through increased surveillance of, early detection of, and greater response capacity to economically important diseases."
The NAHLN Program Staff expresses a belated welcome to Dr. McKenna as a NAHLN Laboratory Director!
Article submitted by Jill Brown, Program Analyst, USDA/APHIS/VS/NVSL, NAHLN Program Staff, Ames, Iowa
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Overview of the WAVLD Symposium
On June 17, 2009, the NAHLN was featured in a symposium held in conjunction with the World Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (WAVLD) held in Madrid, Spain.  The symposium covered topics related to the development and implementation of veterinary diagnostic laboratory networks.  Approximately 100 people participated in the four hour session. 
Presenters/Presentations included the following:  
Barbara Martin - Laboratory Network Founding Principles - Overview of the U.S. NAHLN
Terry McElwain - Quality Assurance and Accreditation
Richard Jacobson - Assays - Validation and Harmonization
Michael McIntosh - Continuous Performance Assessment/Proficiency Testing/Ring Testing
Steve Weber - The Use of Modeling to Determine Laboratory Capacity
Gary Anderson - Scenario Testing
Seth Swafford - Putting it all together - Avian Influenza Surveillance in the U.S.
Steve Weber - Secure Communications and Reporting System
Contact the NAHLN Program Office at NAHLN@aphis.usda.gov  for additional information.
Update from the NAHLN Methods Technical Working Group
In April of 2006, an e-mail was distributed to all NAHLN Laboratory Directors explaining the need for the NAHLN Methods Technical Working Group (MTWG) and asking for the names of people interested in participating.  The group is Co-Chaired by Terry McElwain, Executive Director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, and Barbara Martin, the NAHLN Coordinator.  The NAHLN MTWG is made up of individuals from NAHLN Laboratories, the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, and other technical experts including representatives from USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, the United States Geological Service/National Wildlife Health Center, and the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease/Canadian Science Centre for Human & Animal Health.  

The NAHLN Methods Technical Working Group functions as a vehicle for communication among NAHLN Laboratories on current methods, and serves as a liaison with the Integrated Consortium of Laboratory Networks (ICLN) Technical Working Group.  The MTWG provides input on various aspects of methods validation and approval of methods including:
         Review of available methods and associated gaps
         Identification of potential new technologies
         Validation criteria
         Dossier review
         Assay approval process
         Equivalency of modified methods or for adaptation to new platforms
         Continual performance assessment of assays
         Development of performance characteristic summary documents for NAHLN assays
         Issues associated with transfer of existing and new technologies to laboratories
         Other items identified by the working group
The NAHLN MTWG assembles quarterly via conference calls and meetings.  Prior to each meeting, feedback is requested from the NAHLN Laboratories concerning all aspects of NAHLN assays, proficiency testing, reagents, and equipment.  The  responses are collated and provided to all NAHLN Laboratory contacts. 

The NAHLN Methods Technical Working Group plays a key role in methods assessment and ongoing evaluation.  This year the MTWG has been involved in the following activities:
-Review and evaluation of swine influenza rRT PCR dossiers
-Development of the NAHLN swine influenza testing algorithm
-Review of evaluation of avian influenza rRT PCR dossiers
-Development of standardized processes to modify existing assays and validate new assays
-Development of a pilot project to monitor the performance of NAHLN assays  

Details of activities will be provided through The NAHLN Quarterly as well as e-mails to all NAHLN Laboratories. 
Article submitted by Terry McElwain, Executive Director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, and Barbara Martin, the NAHLN Coordinator, USDA/APHIS/VS/NVSL, Ames, IA.
Getting to Know the NAHLN Program Staff  
The Program Staff stays busy "networking" with the NAHLN Laboratories and other Federal, State, university and private stakeholders.  Most of our communication takes place by means of e-mail or phone, so we plan to run a series of articles in upcoming editions of The NAHLN Quarterly featuring each Program Staff member as well as other APHIS individuals that are involved with NAHLN.  We'd like for you to be able to put a face and a story behind a name that you see pop up in your e-mail box every week!
Our first featured NAHLN Program Staffer is Ms. Traci Imlau.  She is the NAHLN Program Assistant, and her days stay busy working on various projects.  Her current tasks include the development of the Method Object Identification numbers used in electronic messaging, also known as OIDS.  Our last edition of The NAHLN Quarterly contained an article submitted by Traci outlining this process.  She is also compiling recommendations that evolved from the high-path Avian Influenza Tabletop Exercises After Action Report, continues to keep our website updated, and recently became part of a proficiency testing standardization working group.  
Other than our Coordinator, Barbara Martin, Traci has been with NAHLN the longest; joining in May of 2007 (we have a very new group!).  She came to the NAHLN Program Office from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, Diagnostic Virology Laboratory where she provided clerical assistance to the Bovine, Porcine and Aquaculture Section.  Her background in the administrative side of veterinary diagnostics has been a tremendous asset to the NAHLN.
Traci keeps us on our toes, with her strong organizational skills.  She has utilized these skills through her meticulous planning of the NAHLN Methods Validation and Assessment Symposium and the NAHLN Emergency Response Symposium this past year.  Traci continues to develop and deploy the NAHLN Controlled Copy Distribution process, and attends and records for the various NAHLN committee meetings and conference calls.
On behalf of the NAHLN Program Staff, thank you Traci, for all that you do!
 Traci Imlau, NAHLN Program Assistant
Ms. Traci Imlau, NAHLN Program Assistant

Article submitted by Jill Brown, Program Analyst, USDA/APHIS/VS/NVSL, NAHLN Program Staff, Ames, Iowa
Introducing EDCNet
One of the most important aspects of ongoing assay validation is to monitor the performance of assays over time.  The NAHLN Methods Technical Working Group has been discussing the need to establish these processes for all NAHLN assays.  We have the opportunity to participate in a pilot with EDCNet.
is an initiative by the National Serology Reference Laboratory in Australia (NRL).  It provides 'Real-Time' analysis and reporting of data from Quality Control (QC) tests generated from laboratories performing serology and nucleic acid testing for infectious diseases.
Control data would be entered into a web based system and stored in a single database located in Melbourne, Australia.  All data are encrypted and secure during transfer and access is monitored and controlled. 
EDCNet can provide the following:
1.  A simple interface for QC data entry, customized for each laboratory
2.  A reduction in human error by providing validation of data as it is entered, reducing erroneous data entry
3.  Virtually instantaneous reporting of QC testing results
4.  The graphing of laboratory data and allows comparison with aggregate data from other laboratories
5.  Fully customized graphical reports either electronically or in printed form
The combination of these tools provides laboratories with a means to greatly increase efficiency of their QC procedures and maintain the highest standards in QC.  The following website illustrates the options for monitoring controls: https://www.nrlqa.net/about_reports.html.
In June of this year, NAHLN launched the EDCNet pilot study to monitor the performance of assays that are currently in place for the detection of avian influenza (AI), classical swine fever (CSF), and swine influenza virus (SIV).  NAHLN Laboratories that are approved for all three of those surveillance efforts were invited to participate.  At the conclusion of the study, the data will be analyzed and a determination made as to how the NAHLN should monitor the performance of assays in the future.

Article submitted by Jill Brown, Program Analyst, USDA/APHIS/VS/NVSL, NAHLN Program Staff, Ames, Iowa
The following links show a map and laboratory list of the laboratories that have been approved as part of the NAHLN testing network:
AI Testing Laboratories (54):  Map and Laboratory List
BSE Testing Laboratories (8):  Map and Laboratory List
CWD/Scrapie Testing Laboratories (25):  Map and Laboratory List
CSF Testing Laboratories (38):  Map and Laboratory List
FMD Testing Laboratories (38):  Map and Laboratory List
NDV Testing Laboratories (52):  Map and Laboratory List
VSV Testing Laboratories (7):  Map and Laboratory List 
For more information on the NAHLN, visit the NAHLN Home Page
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