Producers working to stop spread of deadly pig virus

Staff ~ The Guardian
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Highly-contagious disease, porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), confirmed in P.E.I. over the weekend

CHARLOTTETOWN - Island pork producers are hoping to keep a possibly devastating virus, as well as the misinformation around it, from spreading throughout the province.

Hogs are shown at a farm in Buckhart, Ill., June 28, 2012. A professor at a Prince Edward Island veterinary college says his worst fears have been realized with confirmation of a case of the deadly pig virus porcine epidemic diarrhea on an Island farm.

The provincial government, producers and Atlantic Veterinary College are all working to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious disease after a case of deadly pig virus porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) was discovered on a P.E.I. farm last week.

Scott Dingwell, an eighth-generation farmer and vice-president of the hog marketing board, said producers are being even more rigorous with biosecurity measures already in place.

“To enter our facility you actually have to leave all your outside clothes in the entryway, shower, and enter wearing new clothes,” said Dingwell. “That’s always been the case on our farm… it’s a bit of a joke but it’s quite true, even if the Pope came to visit my facility he would have to shower.”

The highly-contagious virus can infect any pig and, while older pigs will survive, results in a high mortality rate among piglets.

While that mortality rate drops if the herd builds an immunity, the disease can be devastating and has already killed millions of piglets in the U.S.

The first reported case on P.E.I. was detected by a veterinary lab overnight Wednesday and confirmed on Sunday.

One Manitoba farm was also found to be infected last week, while the number in Ontario is now at 16.

With producers amping up measures to keep the virus from spreading, they’re also hoping to do the same with misinformation surrounding it.

The virus poses no risk to human health or safety, however, similar to mad cow disease it can lead to a drop in consumer demand for pork.

“What I tell everybody is number one; it’s not a human health issue. There’s no effect on the meat,” said Dingwell. “(Number two) we try our best to manage and keep it out. If we do get it, we have the ability to manage it in a herd and develop an immunity.

“It’s exceptionally devastating but we don’t lose all the piglets forever.”

Agriculture minister George Webster said the discovery of the disease led to a conference call with provincial ministers as well as federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz last Friday.

Webster said Ritz told ministers he doesn’t expect any trade issues to arise from the discovery of the disease.

“The processing plants in Ontario are handling the normal trade of processing so we don’t anticipate any (issues) whatsoever,” he said.

Dan Hurnik, a professor of swine health management at the AVC said training sessions on biosecurity have already been held for P.E.I. producers.

“We were worried about the virus even before this break. We were hoping it wouldn’t come,” said Hurnik. “What we’re doing is reinforcing that training.”

Hurnik said an investigation is also underway to determine how the virus arrived at the farm.

Dingwell said while nothing has been confirmed, there is a “strong suspicion” the virus spread to P.E.I. through feed.

“Which is very, very worrying because that’s not something you can shower in and out against,” he said.

Webster said going forward the government will continue to have information and training sessions for producers.

The Canadian Swine Health Board said on Saturday that the virus would be spreading more quickly if it weren’t for strict measures taken after a U.S. outbreak last May.

The virus was first discovered in Canada less than a month ago at a southwestern Ontario pig farm.

Organizations: Atlantic Veterinary College, Canadian Swine Health Board

Geographic location: P.E.I., Ontario, U.S. Manitoba Canada

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