USDA shifts attention to diagnostics to curb deadly pig virus

Courtesy of J P, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

The USDA has been working the past few years to fight porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), which has killed more than 8 million piglets in the U.S. since it was discovered in a Minnesota hog herd in 2013. Now the agency is shifting its attention to diagnostics, focusing on testing instead of relying on farm cleaning methods to prevent the virus' spread.

The U.S. government has "reprioritized its needs" for funding used to combat PEDv, the USDA said in a notice seen by Reuters, and will no longer reimburse farmers to carry out cleaning techniques such as truck washing to prevent infections. The USDA's move will cover costs for diagnostic testing through this winter, but the agency is staying quiet about the reason for the switch and exactly how much money it has left to spend.

Still, the USDA's decision works in "the best manner possible to help the industry," Paul Sundberg, executive director of industry group the Swine Health Information Center, told Reuters. The agency will no longer require farmers whose hogs have been infected with the virus to roll out plans to stop the disease from spreading, distancing itself from measures that "either weren't being used to the full extent" or "just weren't helping with the effort," Sundberg said.

Back in 2014, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said he would put $26.2 million toward fighting Swine Enteric Coronavirus Diseases, including PEDv, setting aside $11.1 million to cover the costs of cleaning measures at farms and $2.4 million for diagnostic testing. PEDv has spread through at least 30 states and could cause about $1.5 billion in damage a year.

Researchers and companies continue to take steps to combat the virus. Zoetis ($ZTS) and Harrisvaccines both make a PEDv vaccine. Veterinary researchers at Iowa State University and Kansas State University are also getting in on the effort, with Iowa State University scientists using genetic sequencing to confirm cases of the virus and Kansas State University researchers tracking PEDv in animal feed to stop its spread.

New biosecurity measures will be imperative in fighting the virus, as well. Two additional strains of PEDv have already emerged since the first outbreak, and some industry watchers say that the USDA should do even more to stop pathogens from crossing international borders.

- read the Reuters story