It’s a really nasty virus, wherever it comes from

With PED now confirmed in Ukraine, albeit not by the country’s own veterinary authorities, a discussion on both the lower and higher-pathogenic strains of this destructive virus was a central part of the NPA’s January Producer Group meeting. Digby Scott reports

Don’t dismiss the lower-pathogenic strains of PED because they can still cause high levels of mortality, that was the view of Pig Veterinary Society president Annie Davis at the January meeting of NPA Producer Group.

She voiced concern about the degree of complacency among some vets on the Continent who took the view that there was nothing to get excited about as long as an outbreak wasn’t the US or Asian strain.

“Well actually, that’s just genetics,” she said. “It’s still a really nasty virus and you’re just talking about shades of virulence rather than being able to relax because it’s not the nasty one from the US.

“It concerns me that we hear some European vets saying they have been dealing with PED for years and, as long as it’s not the American strain, then that’s all right. But even with the European strains, mortality is about 60%, and that makes it a dangerous disease.”

The NPA’s chief executive, Zoë Davies, said that now, more than ever, pig producers have got to take biosecurity seriously, because if PED gets in, we’ve all got it.

“It will have been transported all over the country before we even know we’ve been hit,” she added.

Dr Davies said there had been a host of reports about PED outbreaks in EU countries, but as far as it was possible to tell, these didn’t involve the highly virulent US and Asian strain.

“But some of them, particularly in Germany and Italy, have been similar, with mortalities up to 70%,” she added. “The thing is, there’s a lot of it about and we need to worry about it, whether its a virulent strain or not.”

Dr Davies also expressed concern that although Ukraine pig producers were taking measures to control the disease, the Ukraine government didn’t recognise it as a serious problem because it wasn’t listed by the World Organisation of Animal Health.

But what was even more worrying, she told the meeting, was that Brussels was doing nothing to prepare for the likely spread of high-pathogenic PED from the Ukraine to the EU.

“The EC just hasn’t woken up to the potential risk of this disease and how virulent it is,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you wash your lorries, it will still be transmitted because levels of biosecurity simply aren’t going to be good enough.”

The English pig industry was pushing government to make the disease notifiable, but even if it succeeded, it would take until spring 2016 to get the legislation through, Dr Davies added. And Scotland and Northern Ireland weren’t minded at present to seek notifiable status, which was a problem, as the disease would not respect borders.

Meanwhile, the England Pig Health and Welfare Council was pressing ahead with its disease charter that would be helpful in the event of an outbreak.

“We’ll suffer from the fact that not everyone will want to sign up to it, but the more people we can get thinking about it the better,” Dr Davies said. “We need to hope that Europe wakes up, because it’s a serious threat – I’d say bigger than African swine fever.”

Producer Group member Jimmy Butler wondered why the US/Asian strain of PED found in Ukraine hadn’t, so far, spread across the country in the same way it had rampaged across the US. BPEX’s Mick Sloyan suggested this might be because there would be far fewer movements of weaners from farm to farm in the country.

The meeting also heard that a Zoetis vaccine against PED was currently being trialled with pigs, and there was optimism about its performance. If the vaccine proved effective, the company would probably seek a licence for Europe as well as North America.

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