ELIZABEHTOWN — Sow farm owners in Bladen County have been impacted by a pig virus known as porcine epidemic diarrhea, as have their counterparts elsewhere in North Carolina and throughout the United States.
“It mainly affects sow farms but it doesn’t really affect nurseries and finishers,” said Bladen County Livestock Agent Becky Spearman. “I know we have had some impacts, but in terms of economic impacts, I don’t know the numbers.”
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture bulletin, the first known occurrence of PED in the United States was found in a swine herd in Iowa in 2013.
The National Pork Board based in Des Moines, Iowa, sent out a bulletin in June stating the USDA has issued a federal order stating that producers who have confirmed incidents of PED must report it.
Larry Baldwin of the Water Keeper Alliance said the PED virus is estimated to have killed about 2.3 million pigs in North Carolina since it was first documented in June 2013.
Jennifer Kendrick, public information officer with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences, said, “It is a production disease and that is why it was not required to be reported to the state veterinary office (prior to June 2014) because it doesn’t affect human health.”
Kendrick said the disease only kills piglets, but older adult pigs can also be affected. She added that piglets simply can’t tolerate the illness as well as the adults.
“Older pigs get it and it runs through their system and they develop an immunity … . One thing we are finding is that once the older pigs get it, they build up a tolerance to the virus and they are passing it (the immunity) to the newer (new born) piglets. It takes a while for it (the immunity) to work through multiple generations,,” said Kendrick.
Kendrick said it is currently not known how the disease first came into the United States, but it was discovered in 2013. She added the disease is common in places like Asia.
Kendrick said since the disease was found in the United States, N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler has encouraged farm owners to ramp up their bio-security measures. She said this consists of reminding workers to wear booties and other protective clothing when they enter and exit the hog houses, poultry buildings and so on; being vigilant about washing down vehicles when they travel from farm to farm; and when traveling to farms in other countries, waiting about two weeks before re-entering your own farm so as to reduce the likelihood you may unintentionally be introducing foreign microbes; and posting PED warning signs on farm sites as a reminder to both workers and visitors.
Matthew Turner, staff swine veterinarian with Prestage Farms, said that while their farms have been significantly impacted by the disease, he was not at liberty to give specific numbers.
Turner did say that since the disease was detected in the United States in 2013, Prestage Farms has implemented changes to help curb the spread of the disease. He said the company has dedicated wash bays for different fleets and increased the number times trailers are cleaned throughout the day and things of that nature.
“We have it under control. We still don’t know how the virus spreads. Now that the vast majority of farms have been infected, we’re on the recovery side,” said Turner.
Messages left for Dennis Pittman and Kathleen Kirkham, spokespersons for Smithfield Foods, and Don Butler with Murphy Family Farms were unreturned as of press time.