Hog producers, barn managers, employees and veterinarians in southeastern Manitoba have now been battling porcine epidemic diarrhea virus for more than two months.
There were signs in early July that the epidemic was peaking, at around 50 confirmed cases, but a new case was discovered July 12.
However, industry leaders remain hopeful that the epidemic is levelling off.
“At least the number of cases has slowed down, which is a good sign,” said Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council.
“it means the curve is going the other way, rather than up.”
PED virus can affect all pigs and is often fatal to newborns. It’s primarily transmitted through feces. People, equipment, trucks, feed and other vectors can move the disease from site to site.
The first case of this year was confirmed May 2. All of the 52 cases of PED have been confined to southeastern Manitoba, but it has affected about 25 percent of all barns in the region east of the Red River and south of the Trans-Canada Highway.
“There’s 200 odd barns in the area,” Dickson said.
One positive sign is that sites where the disease was first detected in early May have got rid of their infected pigs and could be a month or two away from restocking the barns, Dickson added.
Scott Peters, a Manitoba Pork director, doesn’t have PED at his feeder barn near Steinbach, but he’s extremely aware of the threat.
“Our feeder barn is right in the middle of it. It’s now a mile away, on three sides (of the feeder barn),” he said at a Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting in Brandon July 13.
“I can’t imagine it not coming across our site, shortly.”
He said everyone in the industry is doing whatever they can to increase biosecurity, but there is a sense that little more can be done to contain the virus.
“I would say the mood is generally frustration,” he said.
“If you talk to any of the managers on farm, they’ve done absolutely everything they can do to stick to their biosecurity measures…. They kind of throw their hands up and say, ‘there’s nothing left for me to do.’ ”
Industry leaders and veterinarians are investigating the causes of the disease spread.
In some cases it’s suspected that employees, moving from barn to barn at one site, may have spread the infection. At other sites it may have been a failure to wash equipment brought onto the farm.
However, there are other situations where the source remains a puzzle.
“What’s thrown us off, is why is this happening?” Dickson said.
“In some cases we think protocols weren’t followed to the T…. In other cases we just can’t figure it out.”
PED virus, which first appeared in North America in 2013, was detected in Manitoba in 2014, 2015 and 2016. However, this outbreak is much larger.
“We had only 10 cases in three years in total. This year we’ve suddenly got 50,” Dickson said.
“This year, the difference is that it got into some of the bigger systems, and because they’re moving so many animals.”
One location of concern is assembly yards in southeastern Manitoba, where animals and hog trucks come and go, Dickson said.
“They test regularly,” he said.
“They may not be (infected), but there’s no guarantee that somebody hasn’t brought, by accident, an animal that is infected.”
It’s possible that another source, besides people, is transmitting the disease to barns.
The Manitoba Pork Council is looking at all possibilities, including feed. U.S. research has demonstrated that animal disease viruses can live in feed for weeks.
“There’s testing going on right now of feed storage structures, equipment, feed trucks … and looking at the feed mills themselves,” Dickson said.
“We’re not trying to point fingers at anybody, but is this a potential method of spreading it? It may not be.”
As of July 13, Manitoba Agriculture said there are 52 confirmed cases of PED in the province this year.