It was only a little over a year ago the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus started impacting U.S. swine herds. In that year, as many as 7 million pigs have been lost and U.S. pork production has been impacted. But a year into the PEDv epidemic, a panel from the National Pork Producers Council at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, June 4 said the situation shows some signs of improvement.
Dr. Paul Sundberg, National Pork Board vice president, characterized the industry's response to the PED virus epidemic into three major areas: pathogen identification and biosecurity, learning about immunity in breeding herds and sow immunity, and focusing on feed issues and the spread of the virus.
"In all three areas we've learned a lot and had a lot of successes," said Sundberg. He said the progress has been a joint effort between the industry in the U.S. and Canada, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, state governments, the feed industry, the plasma protein producers and the rendering association.
Tom Burkgren of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians said there is good news on the PED virus. "If you look at the data, the number of cases seems to be declining. This is probably because of warmer weather, and it's not time to start letting up on biosecurity, but it's the first good news we've had." He said the PED virus is a particularly nasty virus to fight, and they have seen surprises when they have thought they had herds under control and the disease pops back up.
"Then I see some farms where they are doing everything right, and it is still hard to clean up," said Burkgren. "This virus is at a concentration we haven't seen in other pathogens. If you put 1 gram of feces into a 100 cubic meters of water, that water would still be infectious. That means piece of feces the size of pencil eraser in 24,000 gallons of water can make pigs sick.
"We anticipate a continuing decline in the number of cases, but this isn't going to go away," said Burkgren.
The other good news is there is a vaccine undergoing testing and there are field reports coming in of moderate success. Other companies are developing additional vaccines, so there may be more solutions available in the not-too-distant future.
Dr. Liz Wagstrom, the National Pork Producers' chief veterinarian, said the association has been lobbying in Washington for more funding to help study and control the PED virus. "We have asked for money for improvement of research," she said. "We think that the Agricultural Research Service research has to be top priority. The government hasn't put that much research in PEDv."
Wagstrom said the association has also given input to the USDA on the program it is developing to help the industry combat the PED virus.
"We don't yet know the details on [the] USDA program, but we have consistently given them set of points we think would help." She said those included a thorough investigation of how the virus got into the U.S., better communication and collaboration tools for research labs, funding for and prioritization of research, funding for viral testing, help in enhancing biosecurity, and having mandatory reporting be funneled through state agencies.
Wagstrom said the industry has been successful in educating the public that the PED virus is not a food safety or human health issue. She also said the press has done a good job of reporting on the outbreak.