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RFID Unbridles Pathogen Transmission Research

A University of Guelph research team is using active RFID to monitor contact between horses, as well as between the animals and humans, as they investigate technological solutions for preventing disease transmission.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 21, 2017

Researchers at the University of Guelph have been testing radio frequency identification technology to track the movements of horses and staff members to determine how disease may be spread. The technology uniquely identifies each of those wearing an RFID tag, while the tags themselves collect data about each contact they have with other tags. This solution eliminates the need for researchers to install readers in the harsh environments of horse stables and fields.

With the RFID data, "We are using computer simulation to look for trends that could lead to disease transmission," says Amy Greer, an assistant professor and Canada research chair in population disease modeling at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College.

The researchers encased each tag in a plastic sleeve with a sealed top, so as to protect it from dirt and waste.
Traditionally, Greer says, the potential for infection has been evaluated based on the proposition that a group of animals within a confined area all have equal risk of transmitting infection to another animal in that area. This may be an oversimplification of the infection risk that each animal faces, she notes, and does not take into consideration the people who care for those animals, or how they could be potential disease transmitters or carriers themselves.

Amy Greer
According to Greer, the researchers wanted to use technology in the same way that some hospitals do to track the movements of a patient, as well as those around that individual, to understand transmission risks. That led them to investigating RFID technology. However, Greer notes, hospitals have Wi-Fi networks and power sources that make it easier to capture that information and download it into software. Horse stables do not lend themselves to that kind of network.

Therefore, the group has developed a system that it has used at three sites to date, consisting of high-memory transponders worn by both horses and human employees that transmit data to each other and store information that can be downloaded at a later time. In that way, there is no need for a gateway to be installed in a stable or field.

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