Earlier this week, I reported on the fact that Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus had been found in Georgia. To clarify, there were two PCR-positive samples for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, taken from a pooled sample of four pigs that showed clinical signs of disease at a swine show for 4-H and FFA youth in Perry, Georgia. The pigs may or may not have been shown, as they exhibited sickness in their pens at the show.

Since then, three more confirmed positive cases have been reported. I’ve had several follow-up phone calls and emails with representatives from the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) to provide additional information.

According to a news release from the GDA, “The first known positive was found in Georgia on February 27, 2015 from two samples taken during the Georgia Junior National Livestock Show held February 18-21, 2015. GDA immediately responded with biosecurity measures to prevent further spread of the disease.  As a part of that response, inspectors visited premises who reported possible clinical symptoms of PEDv.  Sampling from those visits resulted in three additional positives from the original findings.”

Only Georgia FFA and 4-H youth are eligible to show at this particular event. However, pigs could have been either raised in Georgia or purchased as show pigs from another state (as long as they were owned by a Georgia exhibitor by December 5, 2014).  As mentioned in the first article, my concern (and the concern of the veterinarians with whom I’d visited) was that these pigs may end up going to other shows, either in-state or out-of-state, in which case it would be very difficult to control a virus.

It’s true that all the pigs were required to have current official Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVI), but those certificates are valid for four months. While this provision is only for 4-H and FFA pigs, and only for in-state pigs (it’s 30 days for out-of-state pigs), four months seems like a long time to have just one health paper, especially if those pigs are being exhibited at multiple shows. Granted, the students’ FFA advisors and 4-H leaders are supposed to observe the pigs, but in the case of PEDv and other diseases, pigs could be harboring the virus for several days before showing clinical signs. That’s part of what creates the problem with the pigs in Perry – the test results didn’t come back until this week, well after the animals from the show would have returned to their original premises or possibly have been exhibited at another show.

It does appear that Georgia officials were quick to respond once they knew about the PEDv-positive samples. Dan Duncan, livestock and poultry field forces manager for the Georgia Department of Agriculture said as many as six inspectors were out on Saturday and Sunday responding to calls the department had received from concerned exhibitors as well as samples associated with what was seen at the show in Perry.

“We went into hyperactive mode,” says Duncan. “What happens in the state of Georgia is our responsibility. We have this facet of the livestock industry foremost in our minds and that’s our primary concern.”

Inspectors were using the “highest level of biosecurity that was available” to protect the herds they visited. Duncan added there is always room for improvement: “There is no point in time that we can’t do better. But by no means am I going to question what my inspectors do or did in Perry.”

Could there be a better way?
Absolutely, and that goes for the exhibition of show pigs in any state. While most of these pigs aren’t going back to “commercial” operations, they are still a potential threat to the U.S. pork industry because of their movement to multiple locations.

In many states, the health requirements for show pig movement changed when pseudorabies (PRV) reached a manageable level. In Iowa, it used to be that when you took a pig to a non-terminal show, you had to bring the pig home, isolate it for 30 days, and have a veterinarian blood test it again before it could go to another show. That protocol was dropped three or four years ago, sometime after Iowa reached stage 4 for PRV.

Now, Iowa exhibitors are issued a health paper on their pigs that is valid for 30 days, but they have to get a new health paper for every show they attend within that time period, issued after they are observed by a veterinarian.

The thing is, there’s just a lot of room for error, particularly in the era of PEDv. One advantage we have in the Midwest is that most of the jackpot shows (when the same pigs are often taken to different shows) are in the summer, when diseases like PEDv aren’t as likely to spread. On the other hand, the Georgia show and many of the big stock shows in Texas are in the winter. Some of these states have experienced colder-than-normal temps this winter, which can create environments that are more conducive to disease transmission.

Without even getting into the ethical question of whether youth livestock shows illustrate the values we want our young people to emulate (which deserves its own commentary), in light of PEDv, perhaps this process needs a second look.

I strongly encourage state health officials, along with producers and veterinarians, to review the current protocols on pig movement and ask themselves if they’re doing all they can to ensure the safety and long-term viability of the U.S. pork industry.