UK/East Anglia: Pig farmers on red alert over Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus outbreak in the US

Jimmy Butler says pig farmers are concerned that an outbreak of a viral illness in herds across the

Jimmy Butler says pig farmers are concerned that an outbreak of a viral illness in herds across the Atlantic could reach our shores if precautions aren't taken - Credit: Archant

The British pig industry has moved to red alert over fears that a virus epidemic could spread from across the Atlantic.

The British pig industry has moved to red alert over fears that a virus epidemic could spread from across the Atlantic.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus (PEDv) is harmless to humans but is killing up to 100% of very young piglets on affected pig farms in the United States, says the National Pig Association (NPA).

It is not yet known how the highly infectious virus spread to the States from China, and how it has subsequently spread to Mexico and Canada.

NPA chairman Richard Longthorpe is urging an ultra-cautious approach.

“We are clear that we don’t want to be looking back in a few months, and wish we had been more cautious. We are all agreed in the pig sector that we should close off every avenue of risk and potential risk for the time being,” he said.

BPEX, National Pig Association, Pig Veterinary Society, the Agricultural Industries Confederation and British Pig Association have joined forces to keep the virus out of the country.

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Specialist pig vets say that if PEDv arrived in Britain it would spread quickly through the nation’s naive pig population, causing incalculable damage.

The NPA is urging producers to take every precaution.

Pig producer Jimmy Butler of Blythburgh said worried pig farmers throughout East Anglia were already stepping up bio-security precautions. He recalled the Transmissable Gastro Enteritis outbreak in UK pigs in the 1980s and fears the current virus could be even worse if it took hold here.

“Everybody in the industry is concerned about it,” he said.

Very young piglets were most at risk, he said, while adult pigs experienced symptoms for a few days but recovered.

“It wipes out anything under four weeks old,” he said. But he added: “We are an island and we do have the facilities to keep it out.”

The UK pig sector is also seeking co-operation from breeders about the import of live pigs from America, said Mr Butler.

Current estimates suggest that in the United States alone PEDv could kill as many as 5million piglets before the national herd starts to develop antibodies against the virus, equivalent to 4.5% of all pigs sent to slaughter.

The virus can spread rapidly through contact with sick animals, as well as through people’s clothing, hands, equipment, boots, and tools contaminated with the faeces of infected animals.