Virus easily spread | Highly contagious swine disease making inroads into Western Canada
A deadly swine disease appears to have made its way into Western Canada.
A suspected case of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED), which is fatal to young piglets, was announced Feb. 13 in Manitoba but had not been confirmed by press time Feb. 14.
The disease also crept closer to the Prairies last week when two Montana cases were announced.
Pigs are frequently trucked between Canada and the United States, where PED is now endemic, and has been reported in 24 states. The virus has killed millions of piglets.
Animal health specialists consider trucks to be a primary method of potential disease spread, although the specific mode of infection in all Canadian cases remains unconfirmed.
Ontario had 16 cases in farrow-to-wean and farrow-to-finish operations in 11 counties as of Feb. 14, and one case had been reported in Prince Edward Island.
Manitoba Pork Council chair Karl Kynoch said producers in his province are following a prepared response plan to contain the virus.
“The site has been contained, and neighbours in the area are being contacted by veterinarians,” Kynoch said in a news release.
Prairie producers are on tenterhooks as they monitor herds for the severe diarrhea and vomiting that characterize the disease.
“We are now, for all intents and purposes, surrounded by the bug, now with cases in Montana and Manitoba,” said Alberta Pork chair Frank Novak.
“I think that this last development here with Manitoba and Montana really is the final observation we need for anybody who would deny that we are at risk and would think it can’t happen and it can’t get here,” he said.
“I think we’ve now seen how fast this bug moves. We need to redouble our efforts and make sure we put in place and enforce our protocols and our biosecurity.”
In a conference call Feb. 14, Alberta provincial veterinarian Gerald Hauer, Alberta Agriculture epidemiologist Julia Keenliside and veterinarian Frank Marshall urged producers to ensure transport trucks have wash and disinfection protocols and that those protocols are being followed.
“There’s been some interesting things uncovered out there right now that are really disconcerting,” said Marshall about truck cleanliness.
Keenliside said Alberta has had three suspected cases but all proved negative. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia have started environmental testing for the virus to gauge whether it is present, which indicates potential to infect pigs.
“Just because PED is here and it is a very imminent threat for us, it doesn’t mean that every farm is going to be infected,” said Keenliside, who urged attention to hog operation biosecurity.
Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said producers in his province are satisfied with the process.
“Our provincial veterinarian is very much on top of the situation. Producers, truckers are all well aware of the risk and how the disease is spread and so far I think precautions are being taken in a prudent way.”
Dr. Catherine Furness of Ontario’s agriculture ministry said infected farms in the province range in size from 150 to 2,500 sows, involving single site and multi-site operations.
It has killed 100 percent of infected piglets. Older pigs show mild diarrhea and reduced appetite.
Furness said PED has spread “in wave-like fashion” throughout affected barns. A connection between the virus and porcine blood products in feed is still under investigation. One Ontario feed supplier voluntarily recalled some of its products last week when the agriculture department reported discovery of PED DNA in feed.
Swine specialists from Kansas State University recommend that producers not use feed with porcine-derived products until more is known.
Older pigs develop immunity to PED, and exposure of older gilts to the virus can generate protection. However, cases of re-infection have been reported in some American herds, raising questions about the virus’s virulence.
PED affects only pigs and is no threat to human health.