Colin Ley takes a closer look at the recently released UK industry plan to deal with an outbreak of this devastatingly virulent disease
Unveiled by BPEX in mid-October, the plan’s key elements are to “identify, contain and eliminate” PEDv, taking full account of all known eventualities. And according to BPEX veterinary team manager Martin Smith, it’s also designed so that it can be updated and adapted when facing the reality of the virus under UK conditions.
“You have to be prepared for the unforeseen,” Mr Smith told Pig World. “The plan has therefore been given essential built-in flexibility to allow us, in collaboration with industry and the Government, to respond to whatever emerging needs may be encountered during an outbreak.
“The best defence case study we have to date is the Canadian industry. In Ontario, for example, a system has been followed in which industry and government worked throughout in close collaboration, based on constant updates and information sharing.
“Similarly, we’ve put every possible contingency measure in place to combat all eventualities as we currently see them. However, the UK has never faced this new variant strain PEDv, which is clearly enormously more pathogenic and virulent than the mild form we endured in the 1970s. We therefore don’t know how the virus would spread within the herd in the UK or within our own system of production. That’s what we’ll have to react to if the day ever comes.”
The plan, which is available in full on the BPEX website, details the strategic, operational and tactical steps needed to combat PEDv in the UK. This includes first- and second-strategy steps, the first dealing with an outbreak in up to five individual pig units and the second for fighting the virus if it spreads beyond that.
The UK pig industry has a good track record of dealing with previous disease threats, successfully remaining free of the highly pathogenic strains of PRRS, as seen in the US and Asia, for more than 20 years, while also staying free of Aujeszky’s disease since it was eradicated in the UK in the 1980s.
PEDv operates on a completely different scale to other viruses, however. The contingency plan assessment, in fact, is that if PEDv was to take hold in the UK it could be expected to kill about 500,000 piglets per year in years one and two and up to a further one million piglets in the following five years.
“The effectiveness of the plan in combating this threat is reliant on the support and commitment from the industry and supply chain,” Mr Smith said, adding, however, that with robust national and farmgate biosecurity there was no reason why PEDv should ever come into contact with pigs on British farms. Stopping the virus at source, ideally preventing it from reaching UK farms, is clearly the best defence.
The next barrier is to contain any outbreak as rapidly and tightly as possible, a phase of the operation for which DEFRA is currently considering whether or not to make the virus reportable or notifiable.
“PEDv does not pose any threat to human health, so there’s no automatic reason for making it notifiable as a legal requirement,” Mr Smith said. “Some countries have taken this course of action and some haven’t.
“In addition to considering this position in the UK, we’re also looking at whether or not to establish a disease charter to which producers could sign up, that would require them to tell us if they suspect they have the disease.”
If the worst should happen, the first step under the contingency plan would be to establish a Government and industry disease outbreak steering group to implement an initial disease containment and elimination strategy. Only if the virus spreads beyond the initial containment area would a change in emphasis be considered, potentially moving activities onto a general containment, control and elimination basis.
“At this stage, the key focus needs to be on the early identification of any infection,” Mr Smith said, adding that farm workers are in the “front line” of that process and must be fully aware of looking for signs of the disease, and of the importance of contacting their vet as soon as possible to get any unusual clinical signs checked out.
“While response has been positive to the plan, so far, we will continue to keep an open dialogue with industry as it develops further.”
The plan can be downloaded from the link below.