There tends to be overreaction from media and government officials upon word of a swine-related disease spreading rapidly. The swine flu panic that took place in 2009 was supposed to be the virus that would spread uncontrollably around the world, but this proved to be a false alarm. There have been numerous cases of pig viruses, but very of them posed a real threat to the public.
And even though the pig diseases hasn't harmed humans on a major level, these types of diseases are still something to monitor if you have a pig farm.
Take, for instance, the latest pig virus that has already swept through 20 states in the form of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PEDv) virus.
It may not be a disease that most of the general public is aware of, but it could become a permanent problem in the United States.
Is it harmful to humans?
PEDv is not harmful to humans, and it cannot be transmitted through eating pork, but it has primarily affected young piglets. The virus does not affect older hogs, but there is a 50 to 100 percent mortality rate among piglets, with an 80 percent mortality rate being common in most liters. It spreads at a rapid rate, mostly killing pigs under the age of 7 days. After weaning, however, death rates begin to decline.
According to the Saskatchewan Development Board, PEDv is primarily transmitted through feces.
Primary symptoms of PEDv are vomiting and diarrhea. Experts believe the virus was dormant throughout the spring and summer before manifesting itself during the fall and winter.
Major hog-producing states like North Carolina, Iowa and Nebraska have been especially hit hard.
Over 250 farms tested positive for the disease in North Carolina, but the numbers began to slow down in recent months. In total, over 1,500 cases have been reported in the United States. Despite the virus's alarming transmission rate, there are rays of hope going forward.
Fighting the Virus
The virus is expected to wane in the long-term as herds develop immunity, and as more vaccines are introduced to the market. A pharmaceutical company by the name of Harrisvaccines in Iowa has recently shipped 770,000 doses of a new vaccine that will protect pigs from this new disease. The vaccine is available through a veterinarian prescription only, and it is being applied to herds already stricken with the virus in Iowa and North Carolina. Harrisvaccines is one of the first companies to develop a vaccine, but it is too early to tell if it will work.
Europe and Asia have already have their own vaccines, but the USDA has not approved them within U.S. borders due to concerns over their effectiveness.
Experts are unsure how this virus got into the country, but some are citing the transportation industry as a primary culprit in the progression of the virus. It is an issue that Canada has been watching closely, since there are no PEDv cases crossing into the country just yet.
In a recent study conducted by the National Pork Board, they found 11 percent of all trucks carried the virus coming from pig factories in a local area. Pigs stand the risk of becoming infected from coming into contact with other pigs on these trucks. Experts cite the lack of frequent cleaning, disinfecting and drying as main reasons why the virus is being transmitted from state to state.
Another solution comes from Harvey Wagner-Sask Pork:
"Another thing they should do is try and institute a clean dirty line on their load-out so that no part of the transport vehicle or any person or any tools or equipment come from the transport vehicle back into the barn, only the other way around, from the barn to the vehicle."
These are just a few small measures that hog industry can do to minimize the risk. As a result of this disease, supply is expected to be short in the coming spring and summer, which will result in higher prices at your local grocery.
Senior analyst at BBT Capital Markets Heather Jones calls the PEDv: "the new-normal production disease," but with stronger antibodies in herds and new vaccinations, the threat among hog populations should be minimal in the next few years.