by SUSAN MANN
The highly contagious Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea has slipped into Ontario as the province has confirmed the disease is on a hog farm in Middlesex County.
Ontario’s chief veterinarian Greg Douglas said in a telephone press conference late Thursday afternoon the province is conducting an investigation. Clinical signs in the animals first became evident Wednesday and the disease was “confirmed in the laboratory in Guelph last night.”
What the farmer first noticed was significant piglet mortality in his two- to five-day old pigs. Douglas says they’re working with the farmer to decrease the virus load on the farm. As for compensation for the farmer’s losses, he says “it’s not a matter of compensation. It’s a matter of decreasing the threat of this virus to the rest of the herd.”
It’s important officials have the right option for the farm “before we talk about” compensation for the farmer, he adds.
Douglas says biosecurity remains the best tool to protect swineherds. “All producers are encouraged to maintain strict biosecurity protocols and contact their veterinarian immediately if animals show any signs of illness.”
The source of the virus on the Middlesex farm is unknown. “The farm is following and has followed strict biosecurity protocols,” he says. “We’re tracing the whereabouts of animals, trucks and staff that have been associated with this farm.”
The farm isn’t under quarantine, he says. But “we have no concerns from my office, the office of the chief veterinarian of Ontario, that any products, animals are leaving the premises and causing any concern or threat to the Ontario pork industry.”
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) is transmitted from one pig to another and through inanimate objects, such as boots. The disease doesn’t pose a human health or food safety risk but it is a production limiting disease causing vomiting and diarrhea in pigs. It doesn’t pose a risk to other animals besides pigs.
“Pork remains a very safe food option for consumers to eat,” Douglas says.
In the United States, more than one million pigs have already died since the virus was first reported there last spring. The PED virus is now in 22 states.
Ontario Pork chair Amy Cronin says “we understand what PED is and we understand the implications surrounding that. We see this first case and we can put measures in place right away. We’ve also had the opportunity to educate our producers on three different town hall (telephone meetings). Our producers understand what this disease can do and how it is spread.”
Industry has put measures in place to mitigate the risks of the disease. For example, at cull assembly plants there are transfer stations being used “and that will decrease the potential of getting PED back to farms,” she says.
About border measures, Canada’s chief veterinarian Harpreet Kochhar says they had already put a plan in place in conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) “where any of the trucks returning from the United States that have hauled pigs in the United States are observed at the border for any kind of fecal or manure contamination.”
Kochhar says government officials have told border agents to be extra vigilant in assessing vehicles used to transport pigs.
Douglas says there aren’t any plans in Ontario to make it mandatory for truckers to clean trucks “other than make sure we have lots of options for them.”
Cronin says the Ontario industry has put in place a system of designated trucks to just travel to the United States and back “so they’re not then doing domestic loads.” In addition, there’s a truck washing facility in place for the trucks to be washed and disinfected.
The clinical signs of PED include sows going off feed for no real reason and younger pigs having very watery diarrhea and very high mortality, particularly among animals less than two weeks old. Mortality in young pigs can be 80 to 90 per cent.
The province is working with the farmer, the provincial industry and federal officials, Douglas says, noting the producer is fully cooperating with government officials and his veterinarian in the ongoing assessment of the situation. “We have confidence that in collaboration with both the local industry and the producer that this situation is under control in Ontario.”
In Canada, PED isn’t a federally reportable or immediately notifiable disease. But under Ontario’s Animal Health Act, veterinarians are required to immediately report any significant herd health changes to the chief veterinarian’s office.
PED was first found in England in 1971 and has been reported in other countries. This is Canada’s first case and comes just seven days after producers were told during an Ontario Pork telephone meeting Jan. 16 the disease wasn’t in Canada yet.
The Ontario PED case highlights how extremely difficult PED is to contain, Douglas says. The disease is highly contagious. In the winter the virus can live longer than in the summer. Even with strict biosecurity measures in many high-biosecurity farms in the U.S., “they’ve had multiple breaks. It has been very difficult for producers to absolutely mitigate the threat. It comes down to how intensive the viral burden is outside the barn door.”
It also comes down to a little bit of luck too, he notes, adding “virus can get moved into a situation that we didn’t even realize it was there.” BF
UPDATE: 8:01 p.m. Thurs. Jan. 23 2014
Mark Cripps, Ontario agriculture ministry spokesperson, says by email that the ministry cannot identify the Middlesex farm for privacy reasons but notes that it is a farrow to finish operation.