International trade of livestock and livestock products poses a significant potential threat for spread of diseases, and importing countries therefore often require that imported animals and products are free from certain pathogens. However, absolute freedom from infection cannot be documented, since all test protocols are imperfect and can lead to false-negative results. It is possible instead to estimate the “probability of freedom from infection” and its opposite, the probability of infection despite having a negative test result. These probabilities can be estimated based on a pre-defined target prevalence, known surveillance efforts in the target population and known test characteristics of any pre-export test. Here, calculations are demonstrated using the example of bovine herpes virus-1 (BoHV-1). In a population that recently became free of BoHV-1 without using vaccination, the probability of being infected of an animal randomly selected for trade is 800 per 1 million and this probability is reduced to 64 (95% probability interval PI 6–161) per 1 million when this animal is tested negatively prior to export with a gB-ELISA. In a population that recently became free of BoHV-1 using vaccination, the probability of being infected of an animal randomly selected for trade is 200 per 1 million, and this probability can be reduced to 63 (95% PI 42–87) when this animal is tested negatively prior to export with a gE-ELISA. Similar estimations can be made on a herd level when assumptions are made about the herd size and the intensity of the surveillance efforts. Subsequently, the overall probability for an importing country of importing at least 1 infected animal can be assessed by taking into account the trade volume. Definition of the acceptable level of risk, including the probability of false-negative results to occur, is part of risk management. Internationally harmonized target prevalence levels for the declaration of freedom from infection from selected pathogens provide a significant contribution to the facilitation of international trade of livestock and livestock products by allowing exporting countries to design tailor-made output-based surveillance programs, while providing equivalent guarantees regarding the probability of freedom from infection of the population. Combining this with an approach to assess the overall probability of introducing at least 1 infected animal into an importing country during a defined time interval will help importing countries to achieve their desired level of acceptable risk and will help to assess the equivalence of animal health and food safety standards between trading partners
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