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Vaccine's availability in Oklahoma gives piglets fighting chance against lethal virus

Virus has claimed more than 400,000 piglets in Oklahoma.
By Catherine Sweeney, Business Writer Published: June 21, 2014

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.”

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