Tracking A Farm Virus

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media file photo

Animal feed mixed from ingredients sourced around the world could be carrying more than the vitamins and nutrients livestock need. Seven different viruses that could cause widespread illness and big economic losses for meat producers in the United States can survive in certain imported feed products.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

One of the ways researchers study and try to contain outbreaks is by tracing the virus’ path. But that was especially confusing with the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, or PED.

The Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Iowa State University first identified PED in the U.S. in May 2013. Then, they went back to samples from hog farms they had in storage and were able to track the virus back to an Ohio farm in April 2013.

Pipestone Veterinary Services

Veterinarian and researcher Scott Dee doesn’t much look the part of a detective, in his jeans and company polo shirt.

But when a virus never before seen in North America swept through the network of hog farms where he works, Pipestone Veterinary Services, in January 2014, he had his first clue.

“These farms had the same pattern of infection,” Dee said.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

A fast-spreading virus never before seen in the United States hit the pork industry more than two years ago, racking up roughly $1 billion in losses and spiking prices for consumers.

While researchers are still trying to track the culprit, it appears to be an intrepid world traveler that may have been delivered directly to farmers’ barn doors, creating an intriguing international back story traced to China.