Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon have developed a vaccine to protect pigs against the deadly pig virus, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), a scourge that has cost the North American swine industry more than eight million pigs and $400 million over the past three years.
First identified in 1971 in the United Kingdom, PEDV developed into a major epidemic in Europe that lasted well into the 1980s, followed up by an outbreak in Asia over the subsequent decades and now, as of 2013, PEDV has made its way to North American farms. The virus spreads by faecal-oral transmission and can infect entire herds, quickly killing 80 to 100 per cent of piglets and requiring about three weeks of infection before herd immunity sets in. There are no known human health threats associated with PEDV.
The new vaccine is a product of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), a University of Saskatchewan research organization comprised of over 150 researchers which has been able to quickly respond to the outbreak by creating a vaccine shown to protect up to 100 per cent of piglets, according to Dr. Volker Gerdts, VIDO-InterVac’s research director.
“We recognized that it was a very important disease,” said Dr. Volker Gerdts in conversation with News Talk 650. “We put together a very large team of researchers and put our heads together and really did this.”
“This is great news for the swine industry both in Canada and globally, as PEDV continues to threaten unaffected regions and impact areas where it is already present,” said Sask Pork general manager Neil Ketilson. “Our industry would like to acknowledge Dr. Gerdts and the VIDO-InterVac team for their outstanding contribution to swine health with the development of this vaccine.”
The new vaccine is currently undergoing field testing in Saskatchewan and in southeastern Manitoba where eight recent outbreaks of PEDV have been confirmed, with speculation that changes to transportation practices into the United States might be to blame for the recent outbreak. “We’re very disappointed this has happened,” said Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council, about the new outbreaks. “We’ve sent a note out to all our producers advising them that this has happened and encouraging them to step up their biosecurity. This is not a time to relax, this is time for constant vigilance.”
In May, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency changed its policy which had allowed Manitoba-bound livestock trucks from the US to be washed on Canadian soil, with the aim of preventing trucks from being contaminated with the PED virus at American washing stations. While no direct link with the change in cross-border practices has been confirmed, Dickson has been critical of the federal government’s efforts in support of biosecurity. “What we are saying is that we had a measure in place that was part of a package to try and deal with this disease and our view is that the federal government has weakened that package that we are using to try and keep this disease off our farms.”