For Dr. Sue Burlatschenko, the most striking thing about porcine epidemic diarrhea virus in swine is the eerie silence when you enter infected nursery barns, because the baby pigs are either sick or dead and the sows are too ill to rise.
“You walk into a barn at feeding time and you won’t hear a sound,” she said.
Burlatschenko was the first veterinarian in Canada to diagnose this silent killer called porcine epidemic diarrhea when it was detected on an Ontario farm a year ago. Since then, she and the pork industry have worked to contain the virus which kills nearly all infected piglets under seven days of age.
But it’s an uphill battle because PEDv is a “stinky” virus which is difficult to work with immunologically. As a result, scientists have yet to develop a vaccine for it, Burlatschenko said.
For now, the best producers can do to prevent its spread is to practise strict biosecurity, emphasize sanitation and control anything going in and out of their barns, she said.
Burlatschenko, who operates a swine veterinary service in Tillsonburg, Ontario, updated producers on PEDv during a presentation at the recent Manitoba Swine Seminar in Winnipeg.
PEDv is a coronavirus producing severe diarrhea in pigs. It has a very high mortality rate of up to 100 per cent in suckling pigs. The PED virus is present in parts of Europe and in many Asian countries.
Originated in China
The first North American case of PEDv was detected in the United States in May 2013. According to genetic tests, the strain originated in China but no one knows how it crossed the ocean. Since its arrival, PEDv has carved a deadly swath through the U.S., killing millions of baby pigs and inflicting huge losses on producers. As of last month, 33 states had at least one confirmed case of PEDv.
The disease has inevitably crossed the border into Canada. According to the Canadian Pork Council, Canada has had nearly 100 cases of PEDv since its discovery in Middlesex County, Ontario on January 22, 2014. Most are in Ontario, with other reported cases in Manitoba, Quebec and P.E.I.
Interviewed after her presentation at the swine seminar, Burlatschenko said Canadian producers received a heads up from the situation in the U.S. They realized the disease was coming and were able to “batten down the hatches” in preparation.
When PEDv finally did arrive in Canada, the industry had biosecurity measures in place to limit its spread, she said.
“I think we have just been amazingly successful because we haven’t had the big explosion like the U.S. had to endure.”
The PED virus is primarily spread through manure. It is highly concentrated and virulent. Scientists believe one thimble-full of feces could contain enough virus to infect all the pigs in the U.S.
Provincial hog-marketing boards and the Canadian Swine Health Board stress the importance of sanitation and limiting access to farms in order to control the spread of the disease.
There’s also some suggestion PEDv can be spread through infected feed. Burlatschenko said one surge of cases involving 17 Ontario herds may have originated from a batch of creep feed containing dried blood plasma protein infected with PEDv.
The PED virus survives and spreads well in cold weather. Burlatschenko said producers had hoped the worst was over when the number of cases dropped last summer. But they spiked again in recent weeks, especially in Quebec and Ontario which are experiencing a cold winter.
Burlatschenko said pork producers need to get used to the idea that they have yet another virus to deal with, along with TGE, PRRS and circovirus. She expressed confidence PEDv can be managed because the industry has developed techniques to handle it.
“It’s become our new normal,” Burlatschenko said. “It’s not one I like. But as with circovirus, PRRS or anything else, we learn to adapt to the virus, work with it and deal with it.
“It is a new virus in North America, yes, but it’s not the end of the world. We can work with it, we have the technology, we can manage it. There are far more serious things out there than PEDv. Keep it in perspective.”