Iowa researchers ID novel polio-like virus in pigs

Veterinarians at Iowa State University have discovered a new pig virus.

When piglets on a farm on the East Coast developed a mysterious weakness in their hind legs, the task of figuring out the cause went to veterinarians at Iowa State University. They made a surprising discovery: a new virus in the pigs’ central nervous system, which was discovered in 11-week-old piglets with polio-like symptoms.

The team, led by Paulo Arruda, an assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, found tiny lesions containing a virus that they recognized as a member of a family known as sapeloviruses, according to a release from the university. Sapeloviruses are common in pigs, but this strain had not been seen before, Arruda said.

There is still much to learn about the emerging virus, he added. He suspects it may be fairly common on U.S. hog farms but that only a small percentage of animals will develop symptoms from it.

The virus was characterized using next-generation gene sequencing to map the DNA and RNA in the samples, according to Iowa State. The data revealed that the virus was present in high concentrations in the pigs that exhibited symptoms. “This is science-based swine medicine using cutting-edge diagnostic techniques to discover new pathogens,” Arruda said in the release.

Arruda estimates that farms affected by the virus could lose between 1% and 2% of pigs to it. The potential economic impact has yet to be determined.

Iowa State University has been at the forefront of research aimed at combating the rise of infectious diseases in pigs. In addition to characterizing new pathogens, researchers there have been searching for new methods for fighting porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, a devastating disease that costs the U.S. pork industry about $664 million per year. In June, for example, the school announced that its veterinarians developed a way to collect saliva samples from rope toys placed in pigs’ pens. The samples, they demonstrated, can be used to track transmission of a wide range of diseases.

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