New Pig Virus Causes Concerns Among Area Farmers

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

This Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 photo shows a package of Bacon at a home in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. A British farming organization is predicting a worldwide shortage of bacon and pork in 2013. The National Pig Association says global drought conditions are driving up the price of grain, a major staple in hog feed. It says pig farmers around the world are selling their herds because retail prices are not rising fast enough to cover the cost of record-high pig-feed costs. (The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

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By Jill Kasparie

WILLIAMSBURG, Iowa - Pork prices could climb soon because of a new virus threatening the supply.

Pork producers across Iowa are taking notice of a deadly virus targeting young pigs. It's called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus or PED.

Experts discovered it in U.S. hogs for the first time just a few months ago. Up until now it had just been overseas.

Farmers and veterinarians said there have already been a couple cases of the virus found in Eastern Iowa. The concern comes because there is no vaccine for the virus. That means if it spreads, the virus could devastate Iowa's hog farmers.

Gary Ledger is no stranger to raising pigs. He's been farming his entire life. He lives just outside of Williamsburg and shares his land with hundreds of sows and their piglets. It's easy to understand why he's concerned about the PED virus.

"It's very fatal to newborn pigs, there's no vaccines available for it,” Ledger said.

The virus basically destroys the piglet's small intestine, and could kill nearly all newborn pigs for weeks.

"It could be thousands of pigs, I mean, a lot of your sow farms are producing anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 pigs a week,” Ledger said.

"I know there’s veterinarians across the nation that are working diligently and producers working diligently to try to control the virus,” said Veterinary Medical Center’s Dr. Keith Aljets.

Dr. Aljets is a veterinarian in Williamsburg. He said there are ways hog farmers can contain the disease.

"Trailers are typically washed and disinfected and sanitized, so a trailer used on one farm before it's used on another farm is thoroughly cleaned so that there is not inadvertent transfer of disease,” Dr. Aljets said.

That's already happening on the Ledger farm. A truck-washing bay is in use daily to disinfect any transport vehicle.

"It's all about prevention at this point,” Ledger said.

Those working with the sows also shower twice before stepping foot inside the buildings.

The work to avoid the virus has been ongoing for a few months now. As the weather turns colder, however, the concerns are not subsiding. They’re heating up.

"As we move into the winter months, when typically we have a lot more issues with swine disease due to the weather -- it's called a potential epidemic. It could explode,” Ledger said.

The Ledger farm has not seen any trace of the virus. There's currently no vaccine for it, but researchers are finding more ways to test for the virus in an attempt to reduce the spread.

Farmers said older pigs can also get the virus, but they can usually handle it. Humans cannot get the virus, and it isn't dangerous to eat pork from an infected pig.

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