When Jenelle Hamblin agreed to join Manitoba Pork a couple of months back, she always knew it would be trial by fire.
She was joining the organization as its swine health program manager in the midst of an outbreak of the porcine disease PEDv, a situation that’s roiled the pork sector throughout North America in recent years.
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“The predominant efforts have been managing the current outbreak,” Hamblin told the Co-operator, “but in that response we are looking at the current biosecurity protocols that the industry has in place across the board.”
MPC announced the position in midsummer, at the height of the now slowing porcine epidemic diarrhea (PEDv) outbreak in southeastern Manitoba.
The disease is devastating to young animals, causing up to 80-100 per cent mortality in suckling piglets, is infamously hard to get rid of and has been among the industry’s disease boogeymen since it first appeared in North America in 2013.
This year has been the worst PEDv year on record in Manitoba, with 79 cases as of Oct. 12, almost eight times more than the previous three years combined.
The outbreak prompted the Manitoba Pork Council to ramp up disease management programming, both to take a hard look at existing policy and jump-start communication between farmers, veterinarians, MPC and other provincial and national disease management bodies.
Andrew Dickson, MPC general manager, said PEDv may have been what prompted the new animal health position, but added that it’s going to be a key building block in the coming years.
“We’ve been able to enhance the services for all of our producers to try and help them, to get them through this disease outbreak and we’re starting to build some programs and services helping producers to deal with further diseases that may eventually start to appear,” he said.
The pork council has been keeping a running record of on-farm and industry practices to identify what has been working and any gaps to address.
The Manitoba Coordinated Disease Response also falls under Hamblin’s mandate. The initiative was unveiled earlier this year as a way to connect farmers and veterinarians with disease management efforts. The program’s website was launched soon after, posting general notices, and the disease status of infected farms and resources.
Farmers have bought into the program, Hamblin said. As of Oct. 17, 70 per cent of pork producers in southeast Manitoba had signed on and agreements are still coming.
“We’ve had very positive feedback on the program,” she said. “Producers are accessing the information. Veterinarians are accessing the information regularly. We can kind of go behind the scenes from our website and take a peek on, ‘Is this being used?’ We were very happy to see that guys are logging in regularly and taking a look at the information that we’re putting up there for them to utilize.”
MPC hopes to eventually expand the program into other regions and to fight future disease threats.
“Moving forward, the approach that we’re taking toward PED in terms of disease management — we want to expand into other diseases such as PRSS and implement the same open communication style, working with multiple industry partners, the CVO’s office (Manitoba Chief Veterinary Officer), MPC, the herd veterinarians, to really tackle these diseases as a whole and work together as an industry to manage these diseases in the province,” Dickson said.
PRRS (porcine respiratory reproductive syndrome) causes infertility and “mummified piglets” as well as lung issues in adults and is another major disease threat to Canadian hogs.
Manitoba saw the first unexplained PEDv infection in over a month Oct. 12.
Two finisher barns tested positive for the virus on Sept. 5 and Sept. 15, both linked to animal movement when pigs were transferred from an infected farm.
In the latest case, the cause is unknown.
“There’s a lot of work going on right now to try and figure out what happened. We don’t know. It caught us off guard,” Dickson said.
Efforts to slow the disease are having an effect, he said, evidenced by the slowdown in new cases since July. He warned against relaxing biosecurity, however, as the outbreak is still ongoing.
Of the 79 cases, 32 are considered transitional, with no critically sick animals and certain groups no longer shedding the virus. Another eight are assumed presumptive negative, with no infected pigs, although the virus may still be lurking in manure storage.
The risk profile may change with the incoming cold. Dickson says fall and winter would ordinarily come with higher risk, with the cold and wet making it easier for the pathogen to get into barns.
It is unknown if that pattern will hold.
The outbreak in Manitoba has not mimicked outbreaks in other areas, according to Dickson.
“We’re starting to find all kinds of things about this disease that were relatively unknown,” he said. “We’re finding, for example, that there’s a high survival rate in some pigs, higher than expected.”
There has been more investigative work this year than in some previous Canadian cases, Dickson said.