Fear as killer virus wipes out US piglets

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FEARS are growing over the possible spread to the UK of a new and virulent form of a known pig disease

The general manager of the National Pig Association admitted yesterday that she was “quite worried” over the possibility, Dr Zoe Davies asking everyone involved in British agriculture to help keep an extra special lookout for evidence of the disease, porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus.

Although mild strains have been present in this country for more than 40 years, the danger lies in new strains which have spread from China to the United States where the disease is now wiping out whole generations of newly-born pigs

The current outbreak in the States, which is still spreading, is causing losses of up to 100 per cent of affected piglets and has been reported on more than 200 units in 13 states since May. The virus in the US is said to be 99.4 per cent similar to an outbreak in China which has so far killed more than a million piglets since it was first identified in October 2010.

Davies compared it with another disease pig keepers in the UK have been battling, postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome, which came in from mainland Europe 13 years ago and contributed to a halving of the national herd. It has only come under control in recent years, here and around the world, following the introduction of effective vaccines.

She added there was no effective treatment for the new disease and said the best control method was to keep it out of the country. “It is essential the new strains are kept out of Britain,” she said. “Everyone involved in farming should adopt a number of extra-precautionary measures for the time being.”

Among the measures she wants to see are restrictions to any premises where pigs are kept. Most importantly if anyone has been to either the United States or China, they should not visit any pig farm for at least three days after their return. Even then if they are visiting a pig unit only clothing and footwear from the unit should be worn.

With possible imports of live pigs from the United States on the agenda of some genetic companies, she asked these organisations to think carefully before importing from the States for the time being, regardless of the high level of biosecurity usually attached to such shipments.

She said that, because the disease has only just appeared on the scene, little is known about how it is transmitted but the suspicion is that it is either pig to pig or via human contact.

As a further precautionary measure, she advised all pig-keepers – including the increasing numbers of hobby farmers – to contact their vet if they see unusual clinical problems with diarrhoea, particularly in piglets..

“Producers should also work with their nutritionist, feed supplier and vet to check the provenance of nutritional products used on their farm, and consider whether any might pose an unacceptable risk,” she added.