Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) has killed
around 7 million young pigs since first being identified in the
United States almost a year ago.
The virus attacks the gut of piglets, preventing them from absorbing
fluids and leading to death by dehydration. Older pigs normally
"We are just watching with horror how it is rampaging across
America, and no-one in Europe seems to be the least bit interested,"
said Zoe Davies, general manager of Britain's National Pig
The virus can spread through fecal matter, and U.S. experts say tiny
amounts can infect huge numbers of animals — a tablespoon of PEDv-infected
manure is enough to infect the entire 66 million-head U.S. hog herd,
There is also evidence that feed products may play a role,
particularly those made from pig blood.
Blood products such as pig plasma are commonly used in post-weaning
piglet diets around the world, including in Europe.
"Some protein-rich by-products, such as dried blood, are
incorporated in feed products. This can go in the feed of other
pigs, spreading the disease," said Bernard Vallat, director general
of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), adding thermal
treatment of these products could kill the virus.
Some believe the deadly strain originated in China and has already
traveled thousands of miles to North America, though how it achieved
this remains unclear.
It is nearly identical to one that infected pigs in China's Anhui
province, according to a report published in the American Society of
Microbiology journal mBio.
"We find genetic similarities between the two, but we did not trace
the virus between China and the United States," OIE's Vallat said.
Spain has the largest breeding herd in Europe, while Germany is the
top pork producer.
"We are monitoring the PEDv situation in the United States and other
countries with concern," said Klemens Schulz, spokesman for German
pig producers' association ZDS.
"It is a little surprising that it is not much of a theme (in
Europe), considering the impact it has had there."
The virus is not transmissible to humans and there are no
food-safety concerns, but there could be substantial financial costs
for countries where the virus strikes.
The foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain in 2001, for example, led to
the slaughter of more than 10 million sheep and cattle in a bid to
stop the disease spreading and cost the country about 8 billion
pounds ($13.5 billion), with tourism among the sectors hit.
Frederic Vincent, a spokesman for the European Commission, said
there were no harmonized measures in place in the EU against the
virus, adding it was discussed in a meeting with experts from member
states two weeks ago.
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"The Commission is following closely, together with Member
States, the situation with a view to update the risk assessment," he
A milder strain of PEDv was identified in Europe in the early 1970s
but did not lead to widespread problems and slowly disappeared from
herds as immunity developed.
"It has obviously mutated and become more voracious. Effectively,
our herd is naive (has no immunity) if we get it," NPA's Davies
A spokesman for the European Animal Protein Association said its
members were testing their blood products, but all results had been
negative so far, adding only blood from EU pigs was being used to
produce feed sold in Europe.
"There are no imports," he said.
NPA's Davies said improved biosecurity measures were vital, with
evidence that some trucks that had arrived virus-free at abattoirs
in the United States left carrying the virus.
"We have been doing a lot of work in the UK on truck washes at
abattoirs and trying to ensure they are as effective as they can
be," she said.
If it does arrive in Europe, it is likely to spread quickly
across a continent where many piglets are born in one country and
slaughtered in another.
"Germany, unfortunately, has a high risk level as we are a transit
land for pig transport and we import large numbers of live piglets
from the Netherlands and Denmark," German pig producers' association
spokesman Schulz said.
OIE's Vallat, however, was confident its spread to Europe was
"By reinforcing measures on everything that goes into farms,
including feed, we can protect them from viruses, including this new
one. We are not facing a totally new situation. We know how to
protect farms," he said.
"We need to create a bubble and that everything that goes in and out
of it be sterilized."
($1 = 0.5922 British pounds)
(Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels, Sybille de La
Hamaide in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg; editing by Veronica
Brown and Will Waterman)
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