Pork producers are facing a virus that causes young pigs to die in large numbers.
It is the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, first detected in the United States last year. It has quickly spread to 20 states, including Ohio.
The virus is not new. It was first observed in England in 1971 and soon spread in Europe. It reached Asia in the early 1980s. China is the suspected source of the virus reaching the United States.
The virus may cause diarrhea in pigs at any age, but the mortality rate is especially high among very young pigs. They die from dehydration.
Once exposed to the virus, an individual pig may become sick within 22 to 36 hours. A whole herd may be affected within four days.
Evidence of the virus in a previously unexposed herd shows up as severe outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting that may affect all of the pigs. Piglets under seven days of age may have more than a 40 percent mortality rate, but older piglets generally recover.
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, like other gastroenteritis viruses, is spread to new herds by fecal contact. Preventing its spread requires strict biosecurity, or keeping sources of contamination out, from beyond the farm gate to the packing plant.
Biosecurity must ensure that no individual with contaminated footwear and clothing comes near a hog operation. Also, producers have to be concerned about contaminated farm supplies and transportation equipment.
A study shows the virus can be spread by contamination during transport of pigs to markets.
It found 17 percent of trailers were contaminated with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus before unloading pigs. Another 11 percent of trailers were not contaminated with the virus on arrival, but were contaminated during unloading.
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus only affects pigs. It poses no risk to other animals or humans.
The virus is not a concern for food safety. The meat is safe to eat and poses no risk to human health.
The virus will eventually run its course in an operation. Sows in a breeding herd may eventually produce enough antibodies against the virus that these antibodies can be transferred to very young piglets in their milk.
However, a noticeable loss of piglets may occur when a herd is first infected with the virus.
If Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus continues to spread to new herds, pork production will be affected. Ohio State University and other universities are working on laboratory tests to quickly identify the virus and trace its spread into areas.
The next time you eat a nice, juicy pork chop or a crispy piece of bacon, remember that pork producers are working diligently to ensure that we have a safe, available, and affordable food.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at lentz.38@osu.edu.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.