Attendees of the Livestock and Poultry Outlook Session at USDA’s Ag Outlook Forum had the opportunity to hear from Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian with the National Pork Producers Council about a topic very much on hog producers’ minds: the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). Wagstrom detailed some of the impact and implications of the disease as well as what is being done about it.
PEDV was initially confirmed in the U.S. on May 17, 2013 in Ohio, and it has since spread to at least 24 other states as well as Mexico, Peru and Canada. A second strain of the virus has been reported and there is also a delta coronavirus that causes similar illness. However, these varieties have lower mortality rates.
PEDV is new to the western hemisphere, but Asian countries and Europe have encountered it in the past. Europe dealt with the virus that is transmitted through manure in the 1970s, but the strain of the virus that was encountered was relatively mild. Asian countries, on the other hand, have dealt with one that is quite similar to the PEDV with which the U.S. is dealing. In fact, a Chinese isolate incidence is 99.4% similar to the strain affecting North America.
The bad news is Asian countries have yet to find a vaccine or other method to deal with the PEDV situation. While these nations have been very willing to share information on the virus, they are "glad" the U.S. is dealing with it as they hope the U.S. can "figure it out," according to Wagstrom.
Wagstrom on multiple occasions stressed that PEDV is a production disease and that does not pose any risk to human health; pork is safe to eat.
But she also emphasized that this is indeed a serious problem. While estimates on its spread are rough, she said that most indicate that around 4 million pigs have died from this disease that has a mortality rate of up to 100% in baby pigs up to four weeks of age. PEDV causes diarrhea and vomiting in older animals, which equates to reduced growth and reproduction. The virus also has an impact on production in farrowing for six to eight weeks.
The fact that the western hemisphere was naïve to the virus until 2013 means that the U.S. hog herd has no immunity to PEDV. In other words, the entire pig population is at risk. And the virus can be spread very easily, according to Wagstrom.
Since no successful vaccine has yet been developed, efforts have largely focused on the need for containing the disease. She pointed attendees to a number of universities and organizations for specific guidelines for guidelines on biosecurity.
Once PEDV is contracted, Wagstrom explained that controlled exposure is key. In other words, it is important to get the entire herd sick at the same time. While this creates an unpleasant situation, it also saves lives as this can help to build consistent immunity.
However, Wagstrom expressed concern about how long immunity will last. She also noted that PEDV is a virus that likes cold weather.
Also concerning: Because PEDV is not an OIE-listed disease (World Organisation for Animal Health), the government has not looked at providing any sort of funding (such as from the Commodity Credit Corporation) for helping producers dealing with this outbreak, Wagstrom said in response to an audience question. She continued to say that the new farm bill does order a study on catastrophic disease insurance, but the results of that are obviously a long ways off.
She concluded on the somber note: producers will go out of business due to these losses.