Despite assurances from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that the nation is “on the other side” of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) outbreak, concerns persist surrounding the virus.
Chris ChinnThis sign greets visitors to Chris Chinn's hog farm in Missouri. She and her family want to protect their hogs from germs, so they ask visitors not to go near their hog barns. "There is still plenty of disease out there and it will be back with a vengeance in the fall," said Eric Neumann, a veterinarian studying the transmission of PEDv.
Many veterinarians expected PEDv cases to mimic those of its coronavirus cousin, Transmissible Gastroenteritis (TGE) and slow during the warmer summer months. With the return of cooler temperatures, the disease also will likely makes its unwelcomed comeback.
Harrisvaccines developed the first PEDv vaccine approved by the USDA, but even the company is uncertain how much the vaccine may thwart PEDv in cold weather.
"There could be situations where the virus could overwhelm the immunity of the herd," Joel Harris, head of the company’s sales and marketing, told reporters.
Dale Polson, a senior veterinarians for Boehringer Ingelheim, explained to Reuters that between July 2014 and July 2015, another 2.5 million pigs could die.
"Vaccines can serve a purpose of boosting existing immunity," he said. "The degree to which they're capable of doing so is a bit of a black box."
The fast-moving virus has killed an estimated 8 million pigs since it was first identified last April. Around 10 percent of the nation’s hog herd has been killed by PEDv, sending retail pork prices to all-time highs. Ricky Volpe, an economist for the USDA, says prices could surpass $4.60 per pound by December.
Efforts are being made to study the disease and how may have first entered the country. Veterinarians criticized the USDA for waiting a year to require farmers to report outbreaks to the government, which was announced earlier this month at the World Pork Expo. The agency still has not laid out guidelines for compliance with the new requirement.
Researchers add that by this point, mandatory reports may not be enough to help control PEDv. It has already spread to 30 states, and it may be too late to figure out how exactly it reached American soil.
"Just like a criminal case, the farther you get from an incident, the harder it is to put the pieces together," Eric Neumann, a veterinarian studying the transmission of the disease, said.