An emerging porcine virus capable of rapid transmission and high mortality rates has U.S. swine experts scrambling to determine both the origin of the virus and the most effective way to stop it in its tracks.
The virus, known as the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), has never been seen in the United States before, but has been seen in parts of Europe and Asia. Reuters reported earlier this week that recent PEDV outbreaks in China claimed more than 1 million piglets. Pigs infected with PEDV will suffer from extreme diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.
Fortunately, PEDV poses no risk to humans or other animals, and pork or meat products from infected pigs is still safe for people to eat. But the sudden emergence of the virus in five states including Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota, has raised new questions about our ability to monitor emerging animal diseases and potential threats to the U.S. food supply. There is still no definitive answer on how the virus entered the United States.
According to Montserrat Torremorell, D.V.M., Ph.D., the Allen D. Leman Chair in Swine Health and Productivity at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), there aren’t many U.S. experts with insight into PEDV because the issue has rarely been seen outside of parts of Europe and Asia.
Detecting the emergence of PEDV was complicated by the fact that the virus resembles Transmissible Gastroenteritis (TGE), which is seen on U.S. farms. As a result, farmers and pork producers weren’t immediately sure what they were seeing was PEDV.
To combat the emerging virus, University of Minnesota experts from the CVM’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab are taking a leadership role in helping provide the testing and diagnostic analysis that will allow pork producers, swine farmers and veterinarians to test their herds. Experts from universities in Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas are also dedicating resources to stopping the PEDV outbreak.
In addition to Torremorell, the University of Minnesota veterinary team consists of Albert Rovira, D.V.M., Ph.D., Kurt Rossow, D.V.M., Ph.D., Han Soo Joo, D.V.M., Ph.D., Robert Morrison, Ph.D., and Peter Davis, Ph.D.
“When PEDV infects a farm that has no previous history with the virus a high mortality rate is the end result,” said Torremorell. “We’ll see 50 to 60 percent of young pigs die in a matter of days in some cases. It will especially affect the baby piglets and there’s really nothing you can do until the herd develops immunity.”
Because PEDV spreads easily via manure or equipment or even contact between the pigs themselves, the virus can be challenging to stop. According to Torremorell, lessons learned from combatting TGE may help slow the spread of PEDV because management strategies for TGE, such as exposing sows to the virus so they can pass immunity to their piglets, may help combat PEDV.
In Minnesota, very few farms have reported PEDV. Veterinarians are taking an active role in preventing the spread and aim to get the virus under control in the hot, dry months (which hinders transmission). The general public should not see an impact in terms of pork prices.
Stay tuned to Health Talk for the latest as the fight against PEDV continues.