One Virus Has Wiped Out 10 Percent of America’s Pigs in the Last Year

And right now, there’s no way to stop it.

Oink.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
April 28, 2014, 10:19 a.m.

Last spring, a killer vir­us sud­denly ap­peared on a hog farm in Ohio.

Now, al­most a year since it was first de­tec­ted, the vir­us has spread to 30 states, wip­ing out 10 per­cent of the U.S. pig pop­u­la­tion. The vir­us, known as por­cine epi­dem­ic diarrhea vir­us, or PEDv, tar­gets the lin­ing of a pig’s small in­test­ine, caus­ing ex­treme diarrhea. It’s highly con­ta­gious, and spreads by con­tact with in­fec­ted ma­nure or feed.

As many as 7 mil­lion pigs of the coun­try’s 63 mil­lion herd have died from PEDv since the fast-spread­ing out­break began, ac­cord­ing to Re­u­ters, sink­ing both rev­en­ue and mor­ale across U.S. hog farms. Here’s what you need to know about the deadly dis­ease.

No one knows where it came from. The dis­ease is not a new one, and out­breaks have been re­por­ted in Europe, China, Korea, and Ja­pan. But of­fi­cials have not found any clear evid­ence of how the vir­us entered the U.S. Some sus­pect the out­break ori­gin­ated in China, where a vir­us nearly identic­al to PEDv in­fec­ted pigs in An­hui Province. China has im­posed an im­port ban on U.S. live pork in re­sponse to the out­break here.

The un­usu­ally cold and snowy winter didn’t help. PEDv thrives in cold, damp en­vir­on­ments. The num­ber of re­por­ted cases of the in­fec­tion tripled between last Decem­ber and this month.

The vir­us is in­cred­ibly leth­al. PEDv is al­most 100 per­cent fatal in pigs less than three weeks old.

But not for hu­mans. The vir­us only af­fects pigs, and poses no health risk to hu­mans or oth­er an­im­als.

And there’s no vac­cine. But farm­ers, veter­in­ari­ans, and pork or­gan­iz­a­tions are try­ing to find one. The Na­tion­al Pork Board has already spent $1.1 mil­lion on re­search to un­der­stand how the vir­us works and how to stop it.

In the mean­time, farm­ers are step­ping up bi­o­se­c­ur­ity. This means im­pos­ing stricter stand­ards for clean­li­ness on hog farms. Some farm­ers re­quire work­ers to change their clothes when en­ter­ing and leav­ing barns, while oth­ers have banned out­siders from their prop­erty al­to­geth­er. Farm em­ploy­ees are stock­ing up on dis­in­fect­ant, care­ful not to spread the vir­us dur­ing their daily activ­it­ies.

The out­break has sent re­tail pork prices to re­cord highs. This time last year, pork cost $3.52 a pound. Now, the meat is selling for $3.83 a pound, an all-time high for the U.S. For meat-eat­ing Amer­ic­ans, sum­mer bar­be­cues may be pri­ci­er than usu­al. But don’t worry about chow­ing down — U.S. pork is still safe to eat.

And it’s spread­ing. The vir­us has cropped up in Canada, whose pork in­dustry is closely con­nec­ted to our own.

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