When a disease does not require federal regulation

By: Dr. Catherine Brinkley, extern, Governmental Relations Division

Besides the impact of this year’s devastating drought on agriculture, another hot topic at the recent USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum was the emergence and control of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) in the United States.

Although exact figures are still unknown, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) estimates that 4 million pigs in 26 states have died as a result of PEDv, with much of the losses coming from piglets between four to eight weeks of age. Although the virus has greatly impacted hog production in the United States, the virus does not present a threat to human health, since it is not a zoonotic or foreign animal disease, or a disease listed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Dr. Liz Wagstrom, NPPC’s chief veterinarian, explained at the forum that the federal government continues to be involved in the monitoring and prevention of the spread of the virus. The USDA has indicated that there is not a need for new regulations at this time since PEDv does not impact import or export markets or public health. However, given that there is no vaccine for PEDv and all U.S. herds are at risk, many veterinary associations and industry, along with APHIS’s Veterinary Services Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health, have joined together to help determine how to manage the PEDv outbreak. These groups have released informative updates for farmers and the public.

Researchers at the National Animal Health Laboratory Network are continuing to develop diagnostic tests and controls to track and monitor the disease and assess herd immunity, but they have not been successful yet in isolating the virus. They have been able to establish that PEDv is less related to the mild European PEDv virus of the 1970s but more closely related to the Asian virus, which has been difficult to contain. The origin of the virus and its introduction to the United States are still unknown. There are several experimental vaccines that are being evaluated, however, no commercial products are currently approved for use in the United States and researchers caution that producers could still be battling the virus next winter.

Dr. Wagstrom explained that as researchers continue to pioneer disease control and prevention techniques, it becomes very important for veterinarians, farmers and scientists to explain to the public these procedures and the protection they afford.

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