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Pig virus ‘is like TGE on steroids’

Virus ravages Polo pig farm

Baby pigs are once again thriving on Brian Duncan's hog operation near Polo. Earlier this spring, Duncan lost more than 1,000 piglets to the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.
Baby pigs are once again thriving on Brian Duncan's hog operation near Polo. Earlier this spring, Duncan lost more than 1,000 piglets to the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

POLO – Farmer Brian Duncan found out the hard way about a fast-moving virus that attacks pigs.

Duncan, who raises hogs northwest of Polo, estimates he lost 1,000 to 1,200 baby pigs in March after they contracted porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

“We went about a month without weaning any little pigs,” he said. “Usually we wean about 300 a week.”

While any hog can catch PEDV, it’s especially deadly for very young piglets.

“It kills all of them under 14 days old,” Duncan said. “It’s a very aggressive virus. Once it hits, it moves very quickly.”

Older pigs fare better against the virus.

“When it hits anything over 14 days old, it’s more like a mild flu,” Duncan said. “It’s absolutely devastating to a little pig.”

The sows on the farm also contracted the virus. They were “off feed” for a couple of days, Duncan said, and then returned to normal.

It takes a little time to ride out the effects of the virus, he said, but currently even his youngest pigs are thriving.

“It takes some time for the sows to build up immunity to pass on to the pigs,” Duncan said. “We know it’s still present on the farm, but the sows have enough immunity now to protect the pigs.”

He is, however, taking extra precautions to keep PEDV at bay.

“We do a lot of cleaning anyway, but now we’re doing extra steam-cleaning and disinfecting,” he said.

Across the county, Kim Huntley, Chana, who finishes 27,000 hogs a year for market, is also taking precautions against PEDV.

His hogs have not contracted the virus and are past the age when it’s the most dangerous.

“I don’t have baby pigs. They come in here at 50 pounds,” Huntley said. “They aren’t as susceptible. They can get it, but they don’t die from it.”

Still, Huntley is being careful. Clothes and boots are removed before leaving either of the two sites where he raises pigs.

“Our clothes and boots are site-specific,” he said. “They don’t go from one place to the other. And we wear plastic gloves.”

The tires on trucks delivering feed are sprayed with disinfectant, and truck drivers wear plastic, disposable boots.

“It is a serious deal, no question about it,” Huntley said.

PEDV is a coronavirus that infects the cells that line the small intestine of a pig, causing severe diarrhea and dehydration. The virus usually kills young piglets within 5 days of their contracting it.

PEDV was first discovered in Europe, but soon traveled to Asian countries.

It was discovered in the U.S. in the spring of 2013 and in Canada this year.

Duncan said he has not determined how it got to his operation.

The virus is not a danger to humans. It is not passed from pigs to humans or other animals. And the meat of affected hogs is safe to eat.

“It poses no danger whatsoever to humans,” Duncan said.

In fact, the only effect is likely a hike in pork prices.

Duncan said the recent episode reminded him of a similar virus that affected hogs when he was a youngster.

“It’s similar to TGE [transmissible gastroenteritis]. They’re both coronaviruses. Our pigs got TGE when I was a kid,” he said. “But this is like TGE on steroids.”

No vaccines are currently available to combat PEDV, he said, although animal pharmaceutical companies are working on developing one.

“Most vaccines don’t work very well on viruses,” Duncan said.

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