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A killer virus that affects baby pigs appears to have hit Ohio hog farmers harder than any other state this winter.
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, or PED, doesn’t affect the safety of pork and isn’t a human health concern, but according to figures released at the end of March, many of the state’s hog farmers suffered economically and could continue to suffer again next winter if a cure isn’t found.
“It certainly is a concern. We did just get some projections from the USDA that the losses weren’t quite as bad [nationally] with the swine population, and market prices remain high. That’s encouraging,” said Erica Hawkins, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The disease was first detected last spring and kills baby pigs by striking them with flulike symptoms, causing them to become dehydrated and die.
In February the Ohio agriculture department got a patent on the results of lab work it did on PED, which could be a step toward creating a vaccine.
“But at this point, there still isn’t a cure. We’re telling farmers to enact strict biosecurity measures on their farms to keep their herds safe,” Ms. Hawkins said. “Since there isn’t a treatment, there isn’t a cure, if that strain hits the baby barn, they’re pretty much wiped out. We’ve seen 90 to 100 percent mortality rates for pigs under 10 days old,” she said.
The report issued March 28 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that the virus may have killed 5 percent of the nation’s baby pig population, an important segment of the overall 62.9 million hog inventory. While the loss was significant, it was lower than at least one earlier projection that put baby pig loss at 11 percent.
Still, Ohio suffered heavy losses.
Ohio’s Country Journal, part of the Ohio Agriculture Network, said losses of baby pigs by state farmers this past winter totaled 21 percent, the most by any large hog-producing state. Ohio ranks ninth in total production with about 2.1 million hogs raised annually.
Ms. Hawkins said that to date Ohio’s agriculture department had logged “a couple hundred confirmed cases” of PED statewide.
Michigan suffered losses of about 10 percent. This week, the Michigan agriculture department said that PED had been found on 93 farms in the state and a state official said the virus was becoming “a major economic concern for Michigan’s swine industry.”
Todd Creager, a Wauseon farmer who owns a drove of about 300 show pigs and has been raising hogs for years, said this winter was the most difficult he could ever recall between the snow and freezing temperatures and then PED.
“The worry, the stress — you’d walk into your barn in the morning and wonder what you’d find,” he said.
Mr. Creager took extreme precautions this winter to avoid PED and it paid off. None of his piglets got sick, but he knows plenty of other hog farmers who were not as lucky.
There appeared to be two strains of PED, a mild version and a severe version. “The milder strain, from those I heard from, resulted in about 90 percent death loss. Anyone that had the severe strain, they had 100 percent death loss,” Mr. Creager said.
Mr. Creager said that to protect his valuable show hogs he always takes biosecurity precautions, including hiring a hauler to take his hogs to slaughter, regularly disinfecting the hauler’s transport trailers, and changing his boots and clothes before returning to the barn if leaves the farm for any reason.
“I stayed away from stockyards and stayed away from a lot of businesses and people that may have been exposed to it,” Mr. Creager said. “You never know. It could be on someone’s boots or shoes. Fortunately, it’s not airborne, but it can be tracked into a barn.”
Mr. Creager said PED will probably slow down with the warmer weather. But, “we need a live vaccine. Going into next winter without a vaccine will be like playing Russian roulette,” he said. “It won’t be a matter of if you get it, it’s just going to be when.”
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.