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New virus infects hogs across Midwest

(Phil Roeder/Flickr)
(Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Hog farmers across the Midwest are battling a new virus this summer. It’s often fatal in very young piglets and researchers are still trying to explain the outbreak.

 Since mid-May when Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) was first identified in this country, it has spread quickly, turning up in at least 15 states. So far, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri and Illinois have all had hogs test positive for the virus.

Pigs at more than 200 farms have been diagnosed so far. But Lisa Becton, a veterinarian with the National Pork Board, says it’s not a new disease worldwide.

“This virus was identified back in the 1970s in Europe, in the UK, and then it has been most recently identified in Asia, including China, Japan, Thailand,” Becton said.

How it came to this country is one of the questions researchers are trying to unravel.

Becton says the virus’ impact is greatest on the youngest piglets because it causes dehydration.

“Younger pigs or baby pigs typically tend to have a high mortality associated with that,” Becton said. “Older animals will get sick but they don’t usually perish from that.”

A strain of the virus that was identified in China in 2010 killed more than a million piglets there, according to The Kansas City Star. Within young pig populations, the mortality rate may range between 50-100 percent, according to a factsheet on the virus produced by Kansas State University researchers (PDF).

Becton adds that the disease only affects swine and that sick pigs aren’t brought to processing plants. She says that while PEDV does not transmit to humans, it spreads when pigs have contact with infected manure.

“Our focus is really on keeping and maintaining good biosecurity because this virus does transmit through a fecal-oral route, so what that means is it can transport through manure,” Becton said.

Becton says washing down trailers and other equipment and letting them dry before exposing them to a new group of pigs may help limit the spread of the disease.

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians is tracking the number of reported PEDV cases on its website.

Note: This post has been changed to reflect updated infection statistics.