Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, or PRRS virus, continues to be an issue for Manitoba hog producers.
“Manitoba has always been focused on biosecurity on farms, and it continues to be a primary focus through government and industry programs,” said Blaine Tully. “And going forward we continue to focus on biosecurity on farms, primarily focused on the PRRS virus.”
The veterinarian with Swine Health Professionals in Steinbach said the nature of the virus — one that changes as it replicates — has made it a challenge to control effectively.
First reported in 1987, the virus causes respiratory tract illnesses in young pigs and reproductive failure in breeding stock.
Movement towards eliminating PRRS where possible is taking place, but Tully said that approach isn’t right for every farm.
“If you have a farm where you can eliminate it, but then it’s back two weeks later, it makes more sense to focus on controlling the virus,” he said.
How PRRS interacts with other viruses, particularly porcine circovirus Type 2 (PCV2), is also being looked at. The veterinarian said that a combination of those two viruses can result in more severe cases of porcine circovirus associated disease (PCVAD).
Tully said pigs that are subclinically infected are also an issue. They appear healthy, but still carry a disease. Those pigs are also putting energy towards fighting the infection, diverting protein away from growth.
Other diseases also present problems for producers, although their impact may not be as well understood.
“A lot more attention and money has been spent on appreciating the cost of the PRRS virus on farms than many other diseases, so that’s where we struggle — knowing how much of our resources we can devote to say, influenza control, when it’s hard to understand the cost to the farm.”
Although influenza has grabbed media attention in recent years, the exact cost to producers during production isn’t as well established.
But the first step to controlling any disease is being able to diagnose it, Tully said.
“Pigs aren’t like people where we can just ask what ails them. We’re basically just leaning on animal husbandry skills to determine if a pig looks sick,” Tully said. “And pigs can look sick and change behaviour for several reasons other than just having a disease.”
The swine health expert said training hog barn workers in not just animal husbandry techniques, but also in communication skills, helps to ensure accurate information about pig health is available to farmers.
“I think we often find farms that have subpar production or performance not based on any health challenges, but just based on some of their management strategies,” he said.