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.
"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.
Understandably a lack of understanding about the transmission of PEDv had created a palpable fear throughout the industry.
Duane Stateler, a pig farmer who is president of the Ohio Pork Council, explained to Reuters he was asked to stay away from his local farm supply store after his pigs contracted PEDv. Instead, he meets an employee at a location ¼-mile away from the store to collect his goods.
"It's almost like you keep looking over your shoulder all the time," he said.
Chris Chinn, a Missouri producer, explained in early March that in her home, “PEDv is a four-letter word.”
“On our farm, we have increased our bio-security and we are praying every day that our farm doesn’t get this virus,” she explained in a blog post here. “I think twice before I go anywhere now. I don’t go inside the bank because I don’t know who might have been in there prior to me that may have hogs. I don’t go into a grocery store or convenience store unless absolutely necessary through the week because I don’t know who has been in the store previously that might have been around hogs. If I go to the grocery store, I try to make sure I can stay away from our barns and feed mill or any supplies that need to go inside our barns. Our family and our dedicated employees have become even more meticulous in trying to protect the sows and pigs on our farm. “