Producers search for PEDv prevention options
April 26, 2014
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) has resulted in 4-5 million hog deaths in the U.S. in the last several months, primarily in piglets under two weeks of age. As a result, pork producers of all sizes in addition to 4-H and FFA families who show hogs in western states are searching for answers and management options to prevent the virus from impacting their operations.
"This is devastating for a two-week period if you're farrowing, no doubt about it – you will have 80-100 percent loss of piglets during that time. But, if you're a 4-H or FFA family who buys a pig to show and you have no sows at home, there is no reason to be scared of this. It's a virus, like the flu, and if your pigs are over 17 days of age they will be over it in a week with zero treatment – you might not even know they had it. Plus, it has no long-term affects in terms of performance, cannot be transmitted to humans or other livestock species, doesn't affect meat quality and is not an airborne disease," explained a South Dakota hog producer of what he has learned and passed on to others since PEDv began making headlines in the fall of 2013.
PEDv is primarily spread through infected fecal matter. While it is still unknown how the virus arrived in the United States, the most common belief is that it was transported through an infected feed source.
In a farrowing house situation, from the point of infection any litters due for two-three weeks will experience 80-100 percent death loss. This is due to the piglet's intestines not being developed enough to absorb nutrients while dealing with the virus's diarrhea. But, as the sows recover from the virus they will begin passing immunity to their unborn piglets, and at the end of an approximately three week window the impact on production will be over.
"Everything over 17 days of age experiences zero death loss, and it's actually not as hard on those older pigs as even a seasonal flu bug can be, and they recover with no treatment. They may throw up on day one of being infected, then get loose in their stools for a couple days followed by a couple days of reduced appetite. Then, by about day 5, they can be back to 100 percent. Infected pigs will typically shed the virus for 13-16 days, and up to 28 days, after they've gotten sick and beyond that point will not pass it on," explained the producer.
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He continued, stating the biggest irritation resulting from the virus is the exaggeration regarding the impact of the virus on show pigs, resulting in unnecessary fears on the part of 4-H and FFA families that they can't or shouldn't show hogs in 2014.
"It frustrates me that some people are going overboard, believing they can't buy or show pigs this year, and that local shows need to be cancelled. Every major, national show is continuing, and there is no need for the mentality at any level that shows should be cancelled.
"It just takes a little bit of a different approach if you do have sows farrowing at home, which is also nothing new. I showed in 4-H 25 years ago and we always maintained a strict biosecurity protocol that those hogs did not return home after a show because we had sows. At that time the extension agent came out to operations that had sows to verify spring weights so our show hogs weren't co-mingled prior to the show. Some of the issues we face today are a result of lax biosecurity. If there is one good thing to come out of this, it's that it showed the weaknesses in biosecurity and brought more education and awareness to the industry on biosecurity," he concluded.
"We are not eliminating 4-H swine shows, but we did reevaluate how we identify eligibility for state fair. In the past we have required weigh-ins for all hog projects in order to green tag for 4-H exhibition at state fair. That initial weight and a final fair weight were used to calculate rate-of-gain, which we cancelled this year since we will not have that initial weight," said South Dakota 4-H Youth Livestock Field Specialist Megan Nielson of adjustments South Dakota is making to 4-H shows in response to PEDv.
She added that specific counties are being allowed flexibility in how they want to proceed, but statewide the requirement to attend a county show and receive a purple ribbon to be eligible for the state fair show has also been temporarily lifted for 2014 in market swine projects.
"For many counties those animals have to go back home between their country fair and state fair, and we didn't want to penalize those families that wanted to practice higher biosecurity in not taking those hogs back home, but still wanted to show this year. So, anyone can come and participate in the state fair pig show in 2014," said Nielson.
The fact that the South Dakota state fair is terminal eliminates the concern some families have in taking an animal potentially exposed to PEDv at a show back home. Nielson added that state extension personnel are dedicated to helping 4-H youth continue their involvement in swine projects, calling it a very valuable way to expose kids to the swine industry.
"Since this is a virus and not a disease, and therefore not reportable to the state vet, we do not know the number of sites or pigs impacted in Nebraska. We have outbreaks but I can't tell you if ten or fifty producers, or their herd size, in our state have been affected," said Nebraska Pork Producers Association executive director Larry Sitzman, adding that the first case someone did report was in the Columbus area of the state.
The NPPA has forwarded to the University of Nebraska Dean of Extension suggested voluntary health safety measures that could help prevent the virus from spreading with the request that all county extension agents and educators be informed.
"These voluntary health safety measures are for show hogs, 4-H and FFA weigh-ins and county and state fairs. We, as well as other states, do not want to hamper any show pig, 4-H or FFA activities, and suggest voluntary efforts to hinder the spread and possibly save more piglets. It is true the virus seems to only affect baby pigs, but mixing animals at weigh-ins and then taking them home could possibly spread the virus to the other animals on farms. There is, as of yet, no proven scientific method of how the virus spreads, said Sitzman.
He continued, stating the National Pork Checkoff has dedicated $1.5 million toward research of the virus with an additional half million dollars coming from Canada in hopes of determining exactly how the virus is spread and the development of a preventative and/or treatment vaccine.
"The one good thing, if there is a good thing, is this does make us much more concerned about the spread of a virus or disease among livestock. We are in hopes the additional research and efforts being taken to prevent other health issues from happening are successful," said Sitzman.
Morgan County Colorado extension agent, Colorado State Fair and National Western swine superintendent Marlin Eisenach said the key to minimizing impact is improved biosecurity.
"Our state vet is encouraging a couple things to our extension folks, one being to not come in for a spring weigh-in where the hogs would co-mingle, and secondly to do away with breeding hog shows in any counties that currently have them," said Eisenach.
The Colorado State Fair and National Western Stock show will not be altering their shows, as both are already terminal. While there were recent talks of making NWSS a nonterminal show, those have ceased in light of PEDv.
At Morgan County's fair Eisenach plans to pressure wash any hog-related supplies kids bring to fair before they return home. Some areas of the fair are also expected to have disinfectant walk-throughs for guest to use.
"We will also be disinfecting at our fairgrounds with a 10 percent Clorox solution, which is what we've found works best with this virus. You spray that on, let it sit for 20 minutes, then rewash the area. We're already preparing to do everything we can to prevent spreading the virus during fair," he explained.
However, he noted that one particularly difficult aspect of PEDv is that it can be spread by a minute amount of fecal matter without direct pig-to-pig contact.
"We do not know how long it will take this to run its course, in Colorado or the country. This is an important issue for hog operations of all size, and we had a meeting a couple weeks ago with around thirty producers in attendance voicing concerns and asking how they can reduce their chances of getting it. The answer remains biosecurity, biosecurity, biosecurity," said Eisenbach.