By Ryan Cornell
Once one of the last remaining bastions against a debilitating virus sweeping across the U.S., Virginia reported its first case of porcine epidemic diarrhea on Tuesday.
The highly contagious virus is commonly spread through pig manure and can prove fatal to pigs, especially young piglets.
The virus cannot be spread to humans or other animals and does not affect the quality or taste of pork.
The first case in the U.S. was reported in May and has spread to more than half of the states since then.
Corey Childs, livestock agent at the Warren County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, has been informing local farmers about the virus as it spreada to surrounding states.
"As of the other day, we were one of a very few states that have not been diagnosed [with the disease]," he said. "Now we're one of the many that are trying to deal with it."
He said the virus can lead to diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss and death in pigs of any age, but young piglets are extremely susceptible.
The main way that pigs contract the virus is by rooting around and coming into contact with contaminated manure, he said. Piglets also might become infected by sucking on an udder with contaminated fecal matter.
"It's a disease that's new to this country, so our herds don't have any immunity to it," he said. "There's no vaccine to work on it."
Because a vaccine hasn't been developed yet, he said the best way to prevent the virus from spreading is by reducing exposure and maintaining strict biosecurity measures.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences released a list of these measures for 4H members and FFA students showing their pigs as the exhibit season kicks off.
Guidelines include using fresh and clean bedding, minimizing direct contact with other animals, using your own water and feed buckets, washing your hands after handling other animals, consulting your veterinarian and cleaning and disinfecting the stall, trailer and equipment.
Although a majority of large pig farms are in Southeastern Virginia, Childs said pig producers are located in every county throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
He said there's already been a nationwide spike in pork prices as pigs continue to die from the spreading virus.
"Anyone buying pork is still buying wholesome products," he said. "But we don't want to spread disease around because of potential performance loss."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org