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Structural vulnerability of the French swine industry trade network to the spread of infectious diseases

Rautureau, S., Dufour, B., Durand, B.
Animal 2012 v.6 no.7 pp. 1152-1162
breeding, disease surveillance, farms, finishing, herds, infectious diseases, pathogens, pork industry, risk, ruminants, social networks, swine, swine production, topology, trade
The networks generated by live animal movements are the principal vector for the propagation of infectious agents between farms, and their topology strongly affects how fast a disease may spread. The structural characteristics of networks may thus provide indicators of network vulnerability to the spread of infectious disease. This study applied social network analysis methods to describe the French swine trade network. Initial analysis involved calculating several parameters to characterize networks and then identifying high-risk subgroups of holdings for different time scales. Holding-specific centrality measurements (‘degree’, ‘betweenness’ and ‘ingoing infection chain’), which summarize the place and the role of holdings in the network, were compared according to the production type. In addition, network components and communities, areas where connectedness is particularly high and could influence the speed and the extent of a disease, were identified and analysed. Dealer holdings stood out because of their high centrality values suggesting that these holdings may control the flow of animals in part of the network. Herds with growing units had higher values for degree and betweenness centrality, representing central positions for both spreading and receiving disease, whereas herds with finishing units had higher values for in-degree and ingoing infection chain centrality values and appeared more vulnerable with many contacts through live animal movements and thus at potentially higher risk for introduction of contagious diseases. This reflects the dynamics of the swine trade with downward movements along the production chain. But, the significant heterogeneity of farms with several production units did not reveal any particular type of production for targeting disease surveillance or control. Besides, no giant strong connected component was observed, the network being rather organized according to communities of small or medium size (<20% of network size). Because of this fragmentation, the swine trade network appeared less structurally vulnerable than ruminant trade networks. This fragmentation is explained by the hierarchical structure, which thus limits the structural vulnerability of the global trade network. However, inside communities, the hierarchical structure of the swine production system would favour the spread of an infectious agent (especially if introduced in breeding herds).