Deadly Virus Has Md. Hog Producers on Alert

11/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Regional Editor

Maryland officials are putting hog producers on alert after a deadly outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDV, on at least two farms in the southern part of the state.

Vanessa Orlando, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the department was notified of the outbreaks Nov. 7 on a small hog feeding operation and a finisher operation, both of which are located in St. Mary’s County. No other information about the location of the farms was given.

Orlando said the department has confirmed at least 15 piglets died at the feeding operation while several pigs at the finisher operation were still being treated.

This is the first time the deadly disease has been confirmed in Maryland.

Dr. Michael Radebaugh, a state field veterinarian who covers southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, said there is a possibility the disease may have spread to other farms given the fact that it doesn’t have to be reported to state officials — PEDV is not believed to pose a human health threat — and the disease is considered highly contagious.

“It’s not a reportable disease, it’s more of a production disease, a disease of interest,” Radebaugh said by phone Tuesday. “There is no way of knowing whether or not it spread to other farms. The incubation period is very short, within a day or two. It can spread very quickly.”

Radebaugh said state vets visited the farms in question on Nov. 12, five days after initially being notified. An alert was sent out to state vets on Nov. 13.

Based on interviews with the owners of each farm, Radebaugh said the disease may have come from pigs bought out of state from two separate livestock market auctions. State law requires farmers obtain a permit for out-of-state livestock purchases, which Radebaugh said neither farm had. Along with that, farmers are required to obtain a certificate of veterinary inspection — which must be forwarded to the state within seven days of purchase — and isolate the animals from the rest of the herd for at least 30 days. Radebaugh said the farmers were just unaware of state law.

“It was a small number of pigs brought in and it spread throughout the farm. It spread quickly,” he said, adding that no action had been taken against the farmers and that officials are currently working on educating the farmers on the state law.

PEDV was first discovered in the U.S. this past May in Iowa. It was first discovered in the U.K. in 1971 and has since spread throughout much of Europe and Asia. According to the USDA, PEDV vaccines exist in Japan, South Korea and China, but have not been approved for use in the U.S. Maintaining strict biosecurity controls, officials say, is the best way of preventing an outbreak on a farm.

The virus is very similar to other gastroenteritis diseases, with one of the main symptoms being severe diarrhea. Radebaugh said fever and vomiting are other symptoms to look out for. The disease is transmitted via the fecal-oral route.

The disease is especially deadly in piglets. The USDA estimates between 80 and 100 percent of neonatal piglets diagnosed with PEDV will end up dying from it, while most growing swine recover without treatment.

Even though it is highly contagious, government officials say PEDV poses no threat to other animals or humans and that pork is safe to eat from an animal diagnosed with the virus.

Jennifer Debnam, president of the Maryland Pork Producers Association and owner of a 650-head farrow-to-finish operation in Kennedyville, said hog producers should be extra vigilant with their biosecurity measures.

“You need to make sure you really do good biosecurity. Do things like clean trailers offsite; this is done all the time,” Debnam said.

Given the fact the state’s hog industry is fairly small — cash receipts totaled $11 million in 2011 according to a state report — she’s concerned of the impact it could have on the remaining 454 hog farms in the state.

“The thing with biosecurity is across time, people become lax about it. Those are the things that need to be done,” she said. “I think on smaller farms, they probably aren’t as diligent about that.”

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