JOPLIN, Mo. (KMOX) – A fast-spreading and extremely infectious virus is killing piglets across Missouri. It’s known as porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), and it can kill 80 percent of piglets that contract it.
“Whenever it enters into a farm, in the first 24 to 48 hours, nearly all of the pigs that are left in seven to 10 days are sick and/or dying,” says veterinarian Joshua Schaeffer from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Nationwide, the virus has killed 4 million to 5 million pigs—about 4 percent of the pigs that would go to market later this year.
“We had our first initial case in December in northern Missouri,” says Marcia Shannon, a swine nutrition specialist with the University of Missouri-Columbia. “Since then, there has been an explosion of it, especially in the first two weeks of February. I would consider it widespread now, especially north of Interstate 70.”
Though the virus spreads quickly from pig to pig, Schaeffer says humans cannot contract the virus, and right now it’s not jumping species.
“The virus is a pig virus and poses no risk to human health,” Schaeffer says.
Ron Plain, livestock economist with the University of Missouri, says he expects most of the state’s hog farms to be touched by the epidemic.
“We’re adding 300 farms per week to the list of infected farms. I think most all will wind up with the disease,” Plain says. “The average slaughter age is 6 months. So we will see the impact of this in six months. We do know it has impacted the futures market for hog contracts. We’re at record levels now.”
Schaeffer says it’s a relatively new disease, so farms aren’t equipped to handle the outbreak.
“You or I get vaccinated for several diseases when we’re young so that protects us if we get exposed to one of those diseases,” he says. “But these farms have never experienced this, and we don’t have a vaccine currently on the market. These pigs have never had any exposure, so it leaves them with no protection.”
Porcine epidemic diarrhea, which is believed to have originated in Europe in the 1970s and remains uncontrolled in China and other parts of Asia, appeared in the U.S. last spring and has spread to more than 27 states.
“For a producer who is hit by PED, it can be pretty serious,” Shannon says. “If you have 400 litters with 10 pigs in a litter, that’s 4,000 piglets that have been lost. It’s devastating to those individuals.”
Missouri’s pork industry employs more than 25,000 people, including in the feed, processing, transportation and packing areas, Missouri Pork Association executive director Don Nikodim says.
The source of the virus is believed to be from China, though experts cannot say how it’s getting into the U.S. Schaeffer says you can expect to eventually see pork prices jump by the summer as the number of pigs available for slaughter dwindles.
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