Trucks will likely be the way porcine epidemic diarrhea virus will sneak across the border.
“Trucking is one of our biggest risks, especially from the U.S. where there is this disease,” said swine veterinarian Dr. Egan Brockhoff, during an Alberta Pork telephone conference call on PED Jan. 17.
“Enhanced biosecurity is the best way to prevent this virus from entering Canada and certainly from entering your farm.”
PED was first discovered in the U.S. in May 2013 and has since killed three million pigs and is believed to have affected 15 to 20 per cent of the U.S. pork industry, causing millions of dollars damage.
“It has been insanely devastating to the U.S. pork industry,” said Brockhoff, of Prairie Swine Health Services.
PED and transmissible gastro enteritis (TGE), became reportable diseases in Alberta on Jan. 20. TGE is not as serious as PED, but the two are almost impossible to tell apart without laboratory testing.
Brockhoff said if the virus gets into a new or “naïve herd” especially in a sow barn, the results can be devastating with almost 100 per cent mortality in young pigs.
“Introduction of PED virus into a naïve sow herd is a devastating event for that farm, the pigs on that farm and certainly for the people working with the pigs in the barn.”
Infection can cause acute outbreaks of severe watery diarrhea and vomiting. The disease is often much more subtle in a grower finisher barn. It’s harder to identify and mortality rates are low and the infection can be missed.
In south Asia, where Brockhoff has worked, producers are unable to get rid of the virus, which causes chronic instant diarrhea in suckling piglets and often in the nursery. It takes two to four days from initial exposure until the clinic signs are observed in the barn.
“You will know right away, especially in the sow herd if this virus is present,” he said.
In the U.S., many farms describe recurring breaks of virus on farm as each new naïve animal is brought in.
Transport and transport truck washes in the U.S. have been identified as a major way the virus is spread, especially truck washes that use recycled water.
Trailers may look clean, but were potentially positive for the virus.
“We encourage producers to take responsibility themselves to ensure all trucks coming onto their farms have been cleaned, disinfected and dried adequately. This is something you should be asking your trucker, especially if they have any connection at all with the U.S.,” said Brockhoff.
During the telephone town hall, veterinarian Dr. Lucie Verdon with the Canadian Swine Health Board said other provinces are also taking this disease seriously.
A Quebec scenario estimates PED could cause $13 to $50 million of damage to the Quebec hog industry depending on how quickly it is contained.
“This is very serious and this is why so many people are actively trying to halt this disease and keep the advantage for Canada,” she said.
In Ontario, officials are assessing the threat of PED in assembly yards by testing trucks and yards for PED.
“The threat is real serious, it is there,” she said.
PED is not a virus that can infect humans and it is not a food safety or public health concern.
With no cases of PED in Canada, Alberta Pork is working with its counterparts across the country to try and keep the virus from coming to Canada, including hosting telephone conference calls with farmers about the disease. Almost 134 pork producers and industry officials logged on to the call to learn more about PED. Alberta Pork also announced a series of in person workshops across the province in January, February and March to increase the awareness of controlling the disease.
Frank Novak, chair of Alberta Pork said PED might be the defining moment for the pork industry in 2014.
“It’s really important we do everything to protect our industry,” said Novak, of Sherwood Park.
With years of tough economic times and pork farmers deep in debt, Novak said it would be tempting for farmers to save a few dollars on sanitation or transportation, but warned against it.
“One dollar saved on a freight bill will be swamped by the losses if this bug gets hold,” said Novak.
“The message is pretty clear. There will be a moment when the bug finds its way across the border. The important thing is to keep it from grabbing hold and spreading from there. We all have to do our part.”
Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork said PED is one of the biggest threats to the industry.
“It goes without saying, fighting PED and preventing PED from entering your farms won’t be easy, but it will be possible if everyone does their part.”
Brockhoff said the single most important thing producers can do is work with their veterinary health team and begin the process of auditing their current biosecurity practices around transport trucks.
“How are trucks presenting to the farm? How have they been cleaned? Has proper disinfectant been used and dried? Where were those trailers before?”
Dr. Julia Keenliside, a veterinary epidemiologist with Alberta Agriculture echoed the importance of creating strict biosecurity protocol to keep the virus away.
“The most important thing is trucking, trucking, trucking and biosecurity,” she said.
Alberta Pork will soon begin work on a pig transport wash audit that will include sampling of washed trailers and truck washes from all across Alberta for PED. The goal is to evaluate how much virus is present, if any, in some of the higher risk areas of the province.
Keenliside said a positive sample from a truck doesn’t mean there is a positive case of PED.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean the virus is alive. All it means is we’ve detected some trace of virus on the truck,” she said.
“We want to get started with swabbing our trucks to find out what is really there and how much we are finding. The plan is to work with the truckers, the truck washes and the producers involved in that whole chain to improve the whole biosecurity.”
“By swabbing trucks it will give us an idea of where potential contamination is occurring.”
A discovery of a positive sample of PED from a truck will not be reported to industry.
“Just because a truck is positive doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get an outbreak from it driving down the countryside, or even if it backs up to the farm if you do biosecurity. By swabbing trucks, it will give us an idea of where potential contamination is occurring,” said Keenliside.
Spot it – Screen it – Stop it. •
— By Mary MacArthur

This story was filed prior to the PED
outbreak in Ontario. Alberta Pork has since hosted another telephone Townhall meeting and in addition held in person
information sessions throughout the Province. Check Alberta Pork’s website (or in Pork Chops) for dates and
locations nearest to you.