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Expert says pork producers should be ready for disease

DANVILLE, Ind. — It’s been almost four years since the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus shook the American pork industry, but veterinarians and other experts are warning producers not to become complacent with biosecurity, as three serious foreign animal diseases (FADs) are spreading rapidly through other countries.

Dr. Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board, spoke at the Midwest Pork Conference about three such diseases: foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), classical swine fever (CSF) and African swine fever (ASF). Though not yet diagnosed in the United States – and not a threat to human health or food safety – these diseases have a good chance of soon spreading beyond their borders.

“PED did a great job of improving our biosecurity, but PED is now in our rearview mirror,” Pyburn said. “You need to ask yourself, ‘Has my biosecurity slipped back any in those four years?’”

FMD, which was eradicated in the United States in 1929, is problematic because it can affect any animal with cloven hooves, making it a multi-species disease, whereas CSF and ASF are swine-specific. There are vaccines available for FMD, but they are specific to various strains.

“There are 19-plus different serial types of FMD, so we’re looking at, as far as vaccine readiness for FMD, to have multiple serial types ready to go, and be stocked up quickly in case of an outbreak,” Pyburn said.

 The National Pork Producers’ Council (NPPC) is working on trying to gather government funding in the farm bill to have vaccines stocked up and ready in the United States.

FMD presents symptoms identical to Seneca Valley virus: vesicular lesions, blisters or ulcers, hoof lesions and sloughing of hooves off animals, in severe cases. If vesicular lesions are found on a pig, a vet must be notified immediately.

“Don’t let anybody tell you by looking at the swine that they can tell the difference between Seneca Valley and FMD,” Pyburn explained. “Because it absolutely cannot be done. You need to have a lot of diagnostic data to get that done, and you must do testing in a lab.”

CSF was eradicated in the United States in 1978 and has been under a national surveillance program since 2007 to improve the detection rate, by collecting tonsil samples from pigs in 26 high-risk states. Pyburn said the Pork Board is looking for ways to implement a surveillance program for ASF and FMD, as well.

Like FMD, CSF has a vaccine to prevent spreading, which is why NPPC is also pushing the USDA for funding to stock up on that vaccine in case of an outbreak. Symptoms of CSF are quite like ASF: bloody diarrhea, lesions on ears, enlarged spleen and hemorrhages on the kidneys. However, the only true way to diagnose either fever is through testing in a diagnostic lab.

ASF has never occurred in the United States and has no known cure or vaccine. Pyburn said groups in many countries are working on developing a vaccine, and some checkoff money has gone toward that goal. With symptoms identical in some cases to CSF, diagnosis requires lab testing and the immediate notification of a veterinarian.

“We have not found an effective vaccine for swine fever yet, and that’s scary,” Pyburn said. “That takes a tool out of our toolbox in case we do get African swine fever.”

ASF is currently marching through Eastern Europe, infecting Poland and parts of Russia. It has also been found in China and the old Baltic states, and has infected wild swine in those countries.

Prevent, prepare for FADs

Indiana is one of two states requiring a premise identification number (PIN) on all livestock farms. Pyburn said PINs are essential because they catalyze investigations of disease outbreaks, which gets farms started again once the threat is eliminated. To be effective, PINs should be used every time an operation moves pigs.

Pyburn said farms should appoint a biosecurity officer on staff to learn FAD information, ensure adjustments are made on-farm when needed and to develop a specific biosecurity plan.

Employees who work directly with animals should be trained to observe pigs for symptoms of FAD. The Pork Board provides educational posters for barns, with pictures to aid in identification of FAD by producers, and guidebooks which detail implementations of biosecurity measures.

“We have a Secure Pork Supply implementation guide coming out in January, which you can take onto your farm and use as a cookbook – essentially, what you need to do on your farm, what communication you need to have with your state vet and how to get started in the Secure Pork Supply,” he said.

Like the Secure Egg Supply and Secure Milk Supply plans, the Secure Pork Supply plan functions as a voluntary business continuity blueprint to help producers keep records of biosecurity factors on their operations.

“If you want to be in the Secure Pork Supply, that is entirely up to you,” Pyburn said. “But it’s better to be in it, have the records and form that relationship with your state vet before your response, rather than scrambling after a response starts, which will make it tougher to pull together the info as the state vet needs to get your movements started again.”

For more information on FADs and prevention, visit