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Ohio hog farms hit by disease that kills baby pigs

TOLEDO, Ohio – A relatively new virus that kills newborn pigs has been found on hog farms around Ohio.

The disease is causing worry for the hog industry because severe strains of the virus can wipe out a farm’s entire supply of baby pigs.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has recorded a couple hundred confirmed cases of the virus in the state, said department spokeswoman Erica Hawkins.

Estimates of how many pigs have died vary. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently said the die-off has had a hand in shrinking the nation’s pig herd by 3 percent to about 63 million pigs. The virus thrives in cold weather, so the death toll in the U.S. has soared since December.

The disease – called porcine epidemic diarrhea – strikes newborn piglets with flu-like symptoms that causes them to become dehydrated and die. It isn’t a human health concern nor does it impact the safety of pork.

“We’re telling farmers to enact strict biosecurity measures on their farms to keep their herds safe,” Hawkins told The Blade newspaper in Toledo.

“Since there isn’t a treatment, there isn’t a cure, if that strain hits the baby barn, they’re pretty much wiped out. We’ve seen 90 to 100 percent mortality rates for pigs under 10 days old.”

Todd Creager, a farmer near the northwestern Ohio city of Wauseon, said this winter was tough because of extreme low temperatures and the threat of the virus.

“The worry, the stress – you’d walk into your barn in the morning and wonder what you’d find,” he said.

Creager said he took precautions and that fortunately none of his pigs got sick.

“I stayed away from stockyards and stayed away from a lot of businesses and people that may have been exposed to it,” Creager said. “You never know. It could be on someone’s boots or shoes. Fortunately, it’s not airborne, but it can be tracked into a barn.”

Scientists think the virus came from China, but they do not know how it got into the U.S. or spread to more than half the country’s states since last spring. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry has committed $1.7 million to research the virus.

Creager hopes a vaccine for the disease will be found soon.

“Going into next winter without a vaccine will be like playing Russian roulette,” he said. “It won’t be a matter of if you get it, it’s just going to be when.”

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Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/

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