Oklahoma swine farmers now have a tool to fight a disease that has killed more than 400,000 piglets statewide.
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conditionally approved a vaccine against Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus. This means that the drug is in high demand, considered safe, and its manufacturer, Harrisvaccines, can sell the it straight to farmers.
The disease, which can’t affect humans, is new to the country.
“We didn’t have this virus in the United States 14 months ago,” said Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of Oklahoma Pork Council.
The first case was reported in Iowa in May 2013, according to the USDA. It has infected pigs in 30 states. The disease is oral-fecal transmitted, but some research indicates it can be transmitted by air.
The virus’ morbidity rate for piglets ranges from 80 percent to 100 percent. Piglets don’t have an immune system strong enough to combat the disease, he said. Dehydration kills them within a week. Older swine lose weight because of the disease, but usually recover.
The vaccine is designed to protect herds that have already faced the infection, he said. Farmers inject a pregnant sow in hopes the antibodies will be transmitted by her milk to the piglets.
A USDA conditional approval indicates the drug has been checked for safety, purity and potency, Lindsey said.
The vaccine is the latest front in the fight against PED. To prevent contamination, farmers who travel with pigs stay in the trailers with them, and don’t leave the trailer when pigs are taken to new farms. This keeps potentially contaminated manure from spreading from one farm to another, Lindsey said. Farmers also disinfect trailers after transporting pigs. Some go as far as to put the trailers into a large oven, heating them to kill the virus, he said.
The vaccine is not an “end all, be all,” Lindsey said. “We’re not going to identify one single thing we can do to get rid of this disease.”
Although the disease is not affecting pork quality, it is affecting pork quantity, he said. The Oklahoma Pork Council has estimated that 400,000 to 450,000 Oklahoma piglets have died from the virus. The council estimates that 8 million have died nationwide.
Economic impacts aren’t clear yet, Lindsey said. A lower supply is driving prices up for hogs and for retail pork, which is benefiting farms that haven’t faced the virus. But the farms that have faced it are struggling. And not just economically.
“One of the costs has been emotional,” he said.
Swine farmers want to raise happy, healthy animals, Lindsey said. Some farmers have had entire groups of piglets die.
“When you go through a disease break with baby pigs ... that takes an emotional toll on people,” he said.
The virus has mainly affected commercial swine, said Justin Roach, a staff veterinarian for Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.
Commercial swine are raised to be sold for food, he said. This represents one of the three classifications of the swine industry in Oklahoma. The other two are open-air swine, which are usually show swine, and feral swine.
So far, the other portions haven’t gotten infected, Roach said. The virus needs to be fought to preserve the pork industry, but also to protect the other swine.
“We’ve got a thriving show swine industry,” Roach said. “It (the virus) would have a bad impact on that.”
It would also have a negative impact on feral swine.
“Once a disease gets into a wild population, it’s almost impossible to control,” he said.