Dirty trucks weak link in virus chain

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus | Canada has a plan to contain PED if it arrives, but clean trucks from the U.S. are key

Livestock haulers that bring cattle into Canada and take pigs back to the United States are causing concerns about potential spread of a deadly pig virus.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED), a highly infectious illness, has caused major piglet losses in 20 U.S. states. It has not been found in Canada, and those in the pig industry want to keep it that way.

Dr. Dawn Magrath, a veterinarian with Innovative Veterinary Services in Lethbridge, said livestock transport trucks are a potential source of PED spread.

“They are typically coming dirty from cattle producers,” Magrath said about trucks arriving on pig farms.

“They’re not washing them and then they’re going to pick up pigs to take pigs back south to slaughter facilities.”

Cattle cannot get PED, but the virus can hitch a ride in manure and any other organic material or moisture on trucks and then spread to hog farms if the trucks are not properly cleaned.

“Whether it’s hog manure or cattle manure, to me it still says a lot about their protocols if they’re coming across and they’re not cleaning before they go to the next farm to pick up pigs,” Magrath said.

“What concerns me is, how do I know that they washed out from the last load of pigs before they went to get cattle? What I’m concerned about, they’re not washing at all. They maybe took pigs down last week, brought cattle back and picking pigs up again and maybe they didn’t wash between any of that stuff.”

Magrath said she encourages her hog producer customers to reject livestock trucks that aren’t clean. However, that can interfere with producer shipping schedules.

Dr. Julia Keenliside, a veterinary epidemiologist with Alberta Agriculture, said the solution is for producers to contact their haulers before the trucks reach the farm. Ensure the trucks have been washed and dried before they arrive to pick up a load.

“The first thing we’re saying is that producers need to make sure that all trucks coming on their farms have been cleaned, disinfected and dried because if the manure stays on the truck and it freezes, it could still have the virus inside, and at this time of year, it’s hard to get a truck perfectly clean.

“Trucks are probably our biggest risk right now and we have to do everything we can to make sure those trucks are clean before they come to a pig farm in Alberta.”


PED was first discovered in the U.S. in May and had spread to several states before it was identified. It can kill 80 to 90 percent of young piglets through dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting. Mortality rates are lower in older pigs and sows.

A report from the U.S. in late December showed an unexpectedly lower hog herd size, which has been attributed to pig losses from PED.

A representative from U.S. hog giant Smithfield Foods said last week that the virus could reduce the American herd by two to three million head this year.

A vaccine has been developed in the U.S. with potential to curb PED but its effectiveness is not yet known.

The virus is not a reportable disease in the U.S. because it presents no human health concerns in terms of spread to humans or any other species, and meat from infected animals is safe.

Keenliside said lack of reportability makes it difficult to determine the exact number of cases in the U.S., which is also why Canada is working to make PED reportable in all provinces.

“(Then) we will have a way of knowing where all our cases are and keeping track of how it spreads,” she said.

The Canadian hog industry has also launched a concerted effort to educate producers and livestock haulers about PED and its potential spread. It has a plan in place should the virus enter Canadian barns, and Alberta recently did an emergency response exercise to test the effectiveness of its plan.

“We in Canada have the luxury of knowing that this disease is possibly coming our way because it is in the U.S., so we can prepare for it. I think that gives us a real advantage in controlling it, over the U.S.,” Keenliside said.

“Right now we’re really happy it has been in the U.S. for eight months and it hasn’t been in Canada yet. That’s very positive.”

Magrath said there is little hope of keeping PED out of Canada unless livestock haulers pay attention to washing, disinfecting and drying trucks.


“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when,” Magrath said.

“I’m concerned about it and I knew that when winter came, it would get worse rather than better. We just need to be extremely cautious and not allow stuff like that (dirty trucks) to carry on. If it splashed over in cattle manure, who knows what’s underneath? It’s the responsibility of the producer at the farm to not allow dirty trucks into their facility and if they are, they should be turning them away.”

Keenliside said early detection will be vital to containing PED and preventing it from becoming established if it does infect a Canadian hog barn.

She said producers should report any cases of unusual pig diarrhea to a veterinarian. PED can be verified only through laboratory testing.

Symptoms can be mild in finishing barns, which is another worry in terms of detection.

“It would be very easy to miss, so that’s why we’re saying to producers, if you see diarrhea in the finishing barn, call your vet. Get it tested,” she said.

“Even if they’re just suspect cases, don’t wait.”

Canada’s ped strategy

  • Heightened biosecurity: Ensure incoming animals are from healthy herds; all trucks and equipment are free of contamination; know quality and source of all incoming feed ingredients.
  • Effective surveillance: Monitor herds through Canadian Swine Health Information Network; report any unusual signs of disease; ensure veterinarian is participating in CSHIN.
  • Keeping informed: The Canadian Swine Health Board has a free daily electronic update on swine health news at infor@swinehealth.ca.
  • Risk analysis: National risk analysis will provide information on further protecting the Canadian herd. Some risk assessments for PED are already underway. Issues to be considered include diagnostic testing and capacity, financial impact for producers and the rest of the value chain.
  • Control: An intervention strategy must be established and immediately implemented if PED is found in Canada. Components include containment and strategies to eliminate the disease.

Source: Canadian Swine Health Information Network

how to clean a truck

  • Exterior: Pressure wash, disinfect and dry exterior panels, wheels, mud flaps, fenders, running boards, chassis, electrical cables, winter panels and areas beneath, storage areas and loading ramp.
  • Interior: Wash, disinfect and dry access ramps, ceiling, floor, every corner, holes and wall cavities, partitions, doors, hinges, cables and tools.
  • Interior cab: Wash, disinfect and dry pedals, floor mats, door handles, steering wheel, gear shift, seat, radio and cellphone.

Source: Canadian Swine Health Board