Virus Fatal In Piglets Now In Kansas

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- It has rapidly made its way to 13 states and has infected some 200 herds. It’s called the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus and there are reports that it has killed several hundred thousand baby pigs- a number experts believe will only continue to increase.

“It is very concerning because of its rapid spread,” said Joel DeRouchey, an extension swine specialist at Kansas State University. He tells WIBW that the virus has been confirmed in several herds in southwest Kansas.

“PED is a gastrointestinal disease of swine. It can affect all ages of swine but it’s most detrimental and most susceptible in pigs that are the youngest… It leads to 100 percent mortality in pigs that are under three weeks of age... This virus affects the lining of the intestines which then prevents the absorption of liquids and thus, dehydration occurs,” he explained.

According to DeRouchey, the 200 herds that have been impacted by the virus represent “a very small portion of the total number of swine farms” in the country but it is widespread in the U.S. and has only been in North America for several months. It was first identified in the U.S. in April 2013.

“It’s a very short period of time that we’ve been dealing with this disease but certainly the implications are very large in terms of just this three month period of time that it’s been in the US and the impact it’s had for some producers,” DeRouchey said.

“This is the first time that we’ve ever really seen it in the US,” said Dr. Dick Hesse, Director of Diagnostic Virology at Kansas State University. “Traditionally, it’s been a relatively mild pathogen but in recent times, it seems to be evolving and causing some really severe diarrhea and can actually make sows sick and vomit.”

It’s not been confirmed how the disease got to the U.S. but officials say it’s almost identical to a strand that caused an outbreak in China in recent years.

The virus can only be spread by pigs eating contaminated feces.

“This is strictly a swine pathogen. It does not infect cattle, dogs, sheep, anything like that-just pigs and absolutely no infection of humans at all,” Dr. Hesse said. “There’s no impact on food. Other than there may be a dip on swine production as this disease rolls through some of the swine herds there might not be as many pigs around. But there are no food safety issues at all with this.”

It has swine producers taking every precaution since there is no cure or treatment.

“Producers are very worried. Most producers have very good biosecurity plans in place all of the time to keep out diseases as well as, if they do have a disease, preventing it from spreading to the other barns that they may have on their operation or to other producers. But this had re-energized that effort to make sure that trailers are being washed effectively, employees are following strict biosecurity, things have been disinfected- that they’re just minimizing any opportunity for that virus to be passed from farm to farm,” DeRouchey said.

He says the impact on a farm dealing with a disease like the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus can be devastating.

“Certainly the financial toll that it takes on these operations is substantial.. But there's also an emotional toll on the producers. That's the animals they love. It's what they do on a daily basis and they care a great deal about the livestock they raise. So seeing that many animals die from any disease.. it's certainly very tough on those producers,” he added.

Officials suggest that swine producers continue to work with their herd veterinarian to monitor their animals and stay informed about the spread of the virus in order to help protect their farms.