Circovirus-related issues may have calmed down with the advent of vaccines, but answers are still needed.

In response, the National Pork Board has awarded a $200,875 grant to a research team to study eradication prospects of the latest strain of porcine circovirus. The team, headed by Kansas State University’s Richard Hesse, director of diagnostic virology, will include researchers from Iowa State University and South Dakota State University. Hesse, along with other Kansas State researchers, has conducted clinical trials on a vaccine now used by pork producers nationwide to prevent the disease.
Hesse and fellow researchers will now delve deeper into how the disease affects pigs’ immune systems. The team will lead a national effort to develop the diagnostic tools to determine what viral strain a pig has been infected with, identify the difference between antibodies produced in response to natural infection or vaccination, and to determine the best time to vaccinate.

Porcine circovirus attacks a pig’s immune system, with disease symptoms including skin rash, jaundice, fever, diarrhea, poor growth, weight loss and death --— though not all pigs show signs of disease. Of course, circovirus isn’t a new phenomenon, but in recent years a new pathogenic strain has made its way through the North American pork industry.

“We’re going to characterize exactly how the infection impairs immunity,” Hesse notes. “This research will give producers and veterinarians a better understanding of what’s happening. The diagnostic tools that we develop along the way -— like a test to differentiate between a vaccinated pig and a naturally infected one — will be critical in developing the next-generation circovirus vaccines.”

Hesse says the study will arm producers with the information they need to adhere to an effective vaccination program. “Porcine circovirus is a devastating disease for both the animal and the producer,” he adds. “A producer’s management practices will be critical to the herd’s health. This research will point us in the right direction when it comes to meeting the needs of both the animals and those raising them.”

As the year-long project’s principal investigator, Hesse will work closely with Kansas State’s Bob Rowland, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, and Carol Wyatt, associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology. Also involved is Eileen Thacker of Iowa State University and Ying Fang of South Dakota State University.