American Pigs Under Attack By Killer Virus
May 3, 2014

Virus Has Reportedly Wiped Out One-Tenth Of The US Pig Population

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Expect pork prices to soar, possibly to record highs, after an ailment known as Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) has wiped out a reported seven million pigs in the US, or up to 10 percent of the country’s population.

According to Reed Karaim of National Geographic, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) estimated that PEDv has already wiped out one-tenth of all American pigs, while the USDA estimates are lower (five to seven percent).

Adult pigs typically recover from the condition in a matter of days, Karaim said, and once mothers build up a resistance to PEDv they pass it on to their offspring. However, that process can take up to a month, and many newborn piglets succumb in the meantime – a situation that NPPC president Howard Hill called “heartbreaking.”

Fortunately, health experts said that the disease is unlikely to be harmful to humans. The disease, which was first discovered in the UK in 1971, has not yet made the jump to any other species. However, while extremely unlikely, zoonotic virus specialists told National Geographic that human PEDv infection is not completely impossible.

Juergen Richt, a professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University, told Karaim that the disease “has been around for more than 40 years” and that “there has been no evidence that anyone working with the pigs in any of that time has caught the disease.”

Likewise, Christopher Olsen, a professor of public health at the University of Wisconsin, added that there is “no evidence” that PEDv “poses a risk to people, and there is no evidence of any human infection.” Since the virus attacks the gastrointestinal tracts of pigs and not the meat, he added that there is “absolutely no reason not to continue eating pork.”

While it is unknown how the disease reached the US, some experts believe that it could have been transported via dried blood which is added to pig food as a protein supplement. One thing that is certain is that it will drive up the price of pork. According to Karaim, Purdue University agricultural economics professor Chris Hurt is anticipating a seven percent increase, while the NPPC predicts that prices could increase by 10 to 12 percent.

The disease is virtually identical to one that infected pigs in the Anhui province of China, and in the past few years there have also been outbreaks reported in Canada, Mexico, Japan, some areas of South America, and Europe, said Reuters. The first US case was reported last May in Ohio, and since then PEDv has spread to 30 states, the news agency added.

The disease reportedly thrives in cold, damp conditions, and Reuters said that 32 percent of the 15,000 samples analyzed have tested positive for the disease. The disease blocks a piglet’s ability to absorb nutrients from food or water, and thus far, there is no vaccine that had been able to completely protect the animals from the condition. However, several pharmaceutical companies and universities have joined forces in an attempt to develop one.