Background: Animal health data recorded in free text, such as in necropsy reports, can have valuable information for national surveillance systems. However, these data are rarely utilized because the text format requires labor-intensive classification of records before they can be analyzed with using statistical or other software. In a previous study, we designed a text-mining tool to extract data from text in necropsy reports. In the current study, we used the tool to extract data from the reports from pig and cattle necropsies performed between 2000 and 2011 at the Institute of Animal Pathology (ITPA), University of Bern, Switzerland. We evaluated data quality in terms of credibility, completeness and representativeness of the Swiss pig and cattle populations.
Results: Data was easily extracted from necropsy reports. Data quality in terms of completeness and validity varied a lot depending on the type of data reported. Diseases of the gastrointestinal system were reported most frequently (54.6% of pig submissions and 40.8% of cattle submissions). Diseases affecting serous membranes were reported in 16.0% of necropsied pigs and 27.6% of cattle. Respiratory diseases were reported in 18.3% of pigs and 21.6% of cattle submissions.
Conclusions: This study suggests that extracting data from necropsy reports can provide information of value for animal health surveillance. This data has potential value for monitoring endemic disease syndromes in different age and production groups, or for early detection of emerging or re-emerging diseases. The study identified data entry and other errors that could be corrected to improve the quality and validity of the data. Submissions to veterinary diagnostic laboratories have selection biases and these should be considered when designing surveillance systems that include necropsy reports.