No commercial vaccine exists to protect pigs
By Diego Flammini
One way of helping piglets become immune to a deadly virus is to, in a sense, fight fire with fire.
A 400-head hog operation in Alberta is currently experiencing the province’s first case of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED).
The virus, which piglets can contract through a fecal-oral route, can cause 100 per cent mortality rates in younger animals that haven’t built up the immunity to fend off the illness.
One method building up that immunity is exposing the piglets to the disease by having them ingest infected feces, said Dr. Kelsey Gray, a veterinarian with Prairie Swine Health Services.
“When we’re trying to reduce the spread and shedding of the virus, contaminated feces is one way to naturally inoculate the animals,” she told Farms.com. “It would almost be like taking your child to get chicken pox. All of the animals are going to get sick eventually, so this method helps introduce the virus in a controlled manner and gets the animals on the road to recovery.”
About a month after exposure, sows will make milk that can protect her piglets from the virus.
Without access to a commercial vaccine in Canada, exposing the piglets to infected feces is the quickest way of building herd immunity. Biosecurity measures should also be reviewed to make sure the disease doesn’t spread to other farms, Dr. Gray said.
“Biosecurity is probably our best friend when it comes to keeping things out of your own barn, but biocontainment for a farm that is positive is equally as important,” she said. “They need to try to make sure it doesn’t spread to the next barn.”
Members of Alberta’s pork community are enhancing biosecurity measures to ensure PED is kept out of processing facilities.
“We’re doing tests on a daily basis in Red Deer,” Richard Vigneault, a spokesperson with Olymel, told the Red Deer Advocate. “We test everything at the dock, the trucks and we have had no positive tests. We have to be vigilant. We can’t declare victory before we’re sure there is no positive test after all, either at the farms, the trucks (or) at the plant.”