Area farmers urged to use biosecurity

With livestock event season just around the corner, area livestock farmers are being reminded to practice biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of deadly diseases such as avian influenza, equine herpesvirus and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

This advice comes from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shortly after two cases of equine herpesvirus were detected in Albemarle and Loudoun counties in February.

Elaine Lidholm, communications director for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said those two cases of equine herpesvirus have remained stable since the department last updated them on its website Feb. 18.

“Although we can’t prove this, I think there’s a very good chance that the [equine herpesvirus] outbreak was contained quickly, because people practiced good biosecurity,” Lidholm said.

Regarding porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, Lidholm said the department “does not take it lightly.”

This virus has become a serious threat to swine populations since its mysterious introduction to the United States in 2011.

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians has reported that the virus can have a rate of transmission as high as 100 percent and an equally high mortality rate.

The latest data from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service shows that the virus has affected 913 swine nationwide since June of 2014.

Since that time, there was one confirmed case in Virginia on Jan. 18. There have been 72 confirmed cases in North Carolina.

“One of the differences between North Carolina and Virginia is that North Carolina has more ferruling operations, meaning that they raise baby pigs on the farm,” Lidholm said.

Lidholm added that piglets, more than age range for swine, are especially susceptible to the disease.

For the most part, Lidholm said, pigs in Virginia are feed-out operations, meaning, “pigs have already been weaned from the sows and then they go out to other markets in to feed out to market weight.”

Lidholm said that sows and older pigs can still contract the disease but that it is “most virulent around piglets.”

“With the [porcine epidemic diarrhea virus] in particular, a lot of 4-H kids raise hogs and take them to … shows, so it’s possible for those animals to mix and mingle,” Lidholm explained.

Lidholm said “there is always a risk” that animals can be exposed to something at shows due to the probability that the animals will “commingle.”

In order to mitigate the potential affects of commingling, the department is urging animal exhibitors and event organizers to “minimize direct contact” whenever possible.

“Because it can affect older pigs … strict biosecurity is not only the most effective, but the most practical way to prevent the spread of [porcine epidemic diarrhea virus],” Lidholm added.

As a safety precaution to prevent commingling, Lidholm said the department is recommending that shows cancel the pre-show weigh-in of animals.

During the weigh-ins, Lidholm explained that the animals commingle and then “go back to the farm where, if one of them has picked up any infectious diseases … very quickly you could infect your entire herd.”

With avian influenza, Lidholm said it is a “huge concern” among valley farmers since poultry is such a huge industry.

At the same time, Lidholm noted that backyard poultry operations are more at-risk than commercial operations for cases of avian influenza due to the risk of contact with wild birds.

Lidholm noted that one method commercial poultry farmers use to reduce the risk of avian influenza is to disinfect visitors’ shoes before they enter the cages.

With more snow falling this week, Lidholm said she is unsure when event season will officially begin.

“As the show season starts, just keep in mind biosecurity and think of what you did at home, but do it even more carefully when you’re traveling,” Lidholm said.

Other suggested biosecurity measures include:

• Cleaning and disinfecting stalls at the show event.
• Using your own water and feed buckets for your animals.
• Washing hands after handling animals.

The full list of biosecurity recommendations can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/m4h9scq.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com