U of M develops test for deadly pig virus

6:51 AM, Jul 24, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Researchers at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory have developed a test for the U.S. strain of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus.

PED has been killing new born piglets in 15 states, including Minnesota.

"The mortality is so high at the initial episode, you do not want to get infected in your farm, if you can avoid it," said James Collins, Ph.D. Director of the laboratory. "It is so economically devastating to animal agriculture and animal agriculture is so important to you and me and everybody in Minnesota."

The disease, which is not contagious to humans and is not a threat to public health, is almost 100 percent fatal in piglets. Visitors to the Swine Barn at the Minnesota State Fair do not have to worry about their own health. Any concern will be checking the pigs for any pig-to-pig transmission.

PED  has been a problem in Europe and China, but was not present in American herds until this year.

Collins said the strain of virus in the U.S. is identical to the strains that have infected swine in China and Thailand, but different, genetically, from the European strain.

The first U.S. PED cases were found in April.  It is not known how the disease made its way into the United States.

Developing a test to identify PED in herds is a first step in developing a vaccine to eradicate the disease in U.S. swine.

"We are at a crossroads where people (farmers and industry) are going to decide whether to live it (the disease) or whether to eradicate it from the United States," said Collins.

Eradication might entail the destruction of whole herds, which Collins said would be very expensive. He agreed that developing a test for PED that was available to farmers and veterinarians everywhere is a "big deal."

"It took us about two months to develop a highly sophisticated, molecular-based test that you can use across multiple types of samples and multiple ages of pigs," said Collins. "The Legislature appropriated Rapid Response monies and they were put to good use for this purpose. Thank you to the taxpayers because we were invested in and positioned so that we could provide this level of service which is so important to the state."

The next step in the PED issue is determining the rate of the spread of the disease and how to combat it.

"We have mobilized a lot of resources across the United States to deal with developing additional blood tests and developing vaccines," said Collins.

The University of Minnesota is among the institutions working on a vaccine solution to the PED problem.

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