During the 20-plus years that the U.S. pork industry has been dealing with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, it has cost an estimated $1.5 million per day, according to 2010 research conducted by Paul Yeske, DVM, St. Peter, Minn. Another way to look at it is that so far, PRRS has wiped out an entire year’s worth of the United States’ pork production.

While the dramatic developments in the farrowing house during an outbreak tend to grab the attention, 88 percent of the losses annually involve growing pigs.

The August 2010 issue of Pork outlined eight PRRS Area Regional Control and Elimination programs in various stages of development and implementation. A few more have popped up since that time, including a couple in Canada.  

“I’m motivated to get a project started,” says Brent Sandidge, Marshall, Mo., who runs a 3,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation. He’s been dealing with renewed PRRS challenges since an outbreak last May, which followed five years of maintaining a clean bill of health. He estimates the break, likely from a trucking incident, has cost him $3 million. “We’re working on a clean-up,” he notes. But he’s also working to get a PRRS ARCE project started in his area. A committee of about eight people, including producers, a veterinarian and a feed dealer, are sitting down to consider the options.

As a reminder, the ARCE projects are all voluntary and they are driven by producers, veterinarians and other industry personnel such as Extension agents. The thought process behind the projects is to:

  • Eliminate PRRS where it makes the most sense — those areas with a low PRRS prevalence and low pig density.
  • Control PRRS where elimination does not currently make sense — those areas with high PRRS exposure and a lot of pigs. The point then is to work to improve pig performance and to reduce the virus diversity so as to reduce the risk of new or continuous spread.

Iowa joined the PRRS ARCE list this fall, with a project in Iowa County. The goal is to reduce virus prevalence, says Derald Holtkamp, DVM, Iowa State University. The working group includes Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa State veterinarians and diagnostic laboratory personnel.

“We have a lot of pigs coming into the area,” Holtkamp notes. “Most are negative when they come in.” Right next door is the pig-dense Washington County.

The group has identified 36 hog production sites in the project area, of which half are finishers. “We are enrolling producers now,” Holtkamp says. So far, 12 producers have signed up. Veterinarians are now going out to those farms to collect serum and oral samples to determine virus presence and characteristics. “We had hoped to be further along with testing,” he adds, “but we encountered delays during harvest.”

As with most of the projects, Iowa’s working group is finding producer recruitment to be the big challenge.

A new project north of the border is underway in Ontario, Canada, involving about  1,400-square miles of the Niagara Peninsula.The feasibility study was completed in June  and the project is in full swing. “We’re working toward adoption of Level 2 (disease exclusion) for on-farm biosecurity,” says Jane Carpenter, DVM, with the Ontario Swine Health Advisory Board. “The goal is greater than 90 percent producer participation.”

To date, 76 pork production sites of all types and sizes have been identified — from 15 sows to 3,000-sow, farrow-to-wean units.

As in the United States, producers sign a participation agreement. So far, 29 producers and 64 sites have signed on to the project; four producers, accounting for five sites, have committed to verbal agreements; and six producers, representing seven sites, are currently being contacted.

Steps underway include developing biosecurity protocols and conducting Production Animal Disease Risk Assessment Program evaluations on all sites to identify infection risks, as well as enhancements for virus control and elimination strategies. Regarding biosecurity, “producers believe they’re doing a good job, but slippage occurs,” Carpenter says. “So we need more emphasis on this.” Indeed, biosecurity is a recurring topic throughout the PRRS ARCE projects, and trucking is a common thread of concern.

Carpenter points out that by the close of 2010, pig production sites in the area will be mapped and PRRS-status assessments will be complete, as will diagnostics on participating sites. Quarterly “neighborhood” meetings, as well as project status updates to the region and industry, will be part of the on-going communication efforts.

In western Canada, Leigh Rosengren, DVM, of Rosengren Epidemiology Consulting, is working with the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board to certify PRRS-free herds. The low hog density and low barn density of Canada’s plains have resulted in many PRRS-free herds, and what is out there “is sort of PRRS-lite,” she notes. The producers recognize the potential export benefits of ensuring a supply of PRRS-free pigs and boar semen.

The program’s objective is to take the guesswork out of a herd’s PRRS status with a third-party, point-based, quantitative system. It will involve regular diagnostic sampling within a herd, where points are assigned to demonstrate its PRRS-free status. The point system will be weighed to favor the most current tests, with older tests eroding and falling off over time. In the end, the goal is to present real-time PRRS status of a herd.

“It needs to be real-time, because disease status changes overnight,” Rosengren says. “It had to be a third-party system to be objective.” The herd’s PRRS status will be housed and updated online. A certified herd’s owner can share the information with clients as he or she wishes.

While the program allows for flexibility in which PRRS tests are used, a producer will have to partner with a veterinarian. Participation is voluntary, and the program is set to roll out this winter.

Currently the Canadian Swine Health Board is providing some funding; however, producers will have to support the program long term. “The hope is that participants will get premiums for their pigs, keep customers and be able to cut costs,” Rosengren says.

Many other areas, in Canada and the United States, are considering PRRS ARCE projects, and the winter months will likely be filled with producer meetings to measure interest and outline  possible options.

It Starts with Five Phases

There are five phases identified for producers, veterinarians and other pork industry supporters to consider as they start down the path of implementing an Area Regional Control and Elimination program for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. These include:

  • Phase 1: Conduct a feasibility study for the area under consideration and identify leadership.
  • Phase 2: Identify all pig-related sites. These include production sites, packing plants, feed mills, exhibition locations, buying stations, truck washes and others. It also includes confirming PRRS status.
  • Phase 3: Outline the region’s characteristics. This involves determining PRRS-infection status and animal flows, as well as conducting on-site risk assessments.
  • Phase 4: Design PRRS-control strategies. This means developing options for individual sites and producers but also for the area. Natural barriers, major roads, distance between operations and pig movement strategies will come into play.
  • Phase 5: Execution and monitoring of the programs and progress. The point will be to coordinate PRRS-control and elimination efforts, creating a “neighborhood” to reduce the virus transmission risk. Individual herd efforts could include herd closures, partial depopulations and biosecurity revisions identified by risk factors.  

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica has committed an “Area Solutions Team” to assist the industry with its PRRS ARCE efforts, along with sponsoring interns to help project leaders with various tasks. The solutions team is available to support and advise project leaders. Some of the services include:

  • Geographic Information Systems mapping of swine production sites. 
  • Trouble-shooting and continuous education.
  • On-site measurements involving Production Animal Disease Risk Assessment Program and other data analysis.
  • Virus diagnostic techniques and assistance.
  •  PRRS virus sequencing and analysis.