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Fatal virus threatens livestock across US

March 15, 2014

A fatal virus spreading across the United States poses a threat to pigs and livestock events at Mann Valley Farm, including the Annual Show Pig Sale on April 5.

Those working with the swine are taking precautions to prevent the spread of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus, which causes severe diarrhea in pigs and is deadly to piglets. The virus is spread by pig manure, which can be carried on the clothes and shoes of workers and visitors of the farm.

While the PED virus is not a new virus globally, it is new to the U.S. The virus only affects pigs and cannot be transferred to other animals or humans. PED also does not affect pork safety, according to the National Pork Board, a government-owned corporation based in Iowa that provides information and news about pork industry.

The virus has infected 4,000 hogs in 26 states, including Wisconsin and surrounding states, according to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, which is a nationwide collaboration to provide animal disease surveillance.

The show pig sale is still scheduled to take place, as long as the pigs do not contract the virus. Several attempts to maintain biosecurity before, during and after the show pig sale have been implemented on the farm.

While older swine recover completely from the virus, most piglets are sure to die if they contract it. If PED spreads to UW-River Falls, it will be deadly to the majority of pigs for sale and the show pig sale will be cancelled, said Professor Gary Onan, who oversees operations at Mann Valley Farm.

The virus is resistant to freezing and “spreads like wildfire in the winter,” Onan said.

“Cases shot up like a rocket in the last two months,” Onan said.

Events that would have been hosted at Mann Valley Farm have been moved to other areas, in order to reduce exposure of the virus. Trucks, trailers and people are being kept away from swine with barriers and signs. Workers at the farm are being required to change clothes before working the pigs, said Onan.

“Our hope is that, with the measures we’ve taken, we can avoid contracting disease until a vaccine,” Onan said.

Over 500 cases of PED have been reported in Minnesota, compared to nine cases in Wisconsin, according to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. A recent outbreak was also reported in Red Wing, Minn.

Since UWRF is close to the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, traffic from these areas is of concern, Onan said.

Extra precautions have been taken since the beginning of February, said Katye Williams and Emily Warren, student managers at the farm. Specific footwear will be provided for those working the swine within the next week, Onan said.

“We’re just trying to hold it off as long as we can,” Warren said.

Onan said that while pigs at UWRF have not contracted a virus like this in the past 15 years, “it is not uncommon to have a virus in the swine industry.”