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A disease that sounds unpleasant for human and hog alike, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is spreading through America’s swine via shit-caked boots, coveralls and trucks, according to University of Illinois researchers.
In what sounds like the worst-smelling research imaginable, veterinarians like James Lowe gathered swabs and environmental samples from 669 pig trailers as they pulled into seven Midwestern slaughterhouses.
While factory farming leads to things like hog-shit explosions and antibiotic-resistant bacteria coming back to people, PEDv is a product of fairly predictable, if disgusting, pig behavior. The summer’s epidemic is likely a product of having centralized processing plants and truck contractors, which would probably exist in even the most bucolic fantasies.
PEDv is spread when hogs ingest contaminated feces. As the hogs are unloaded at the slaughterhouse, they’re shitting all over the place. Some of that shit gets tracked onto the trucks that pick up other hogs, or onto boots of workers who go to other farms. On the next farm, hitherto unblemished pigs, being notorious gourmands, then eat said shit, and develop epidemic diarrhea.
This movement is responsible for more than 330 confirmed cases of PEDv in 15 states, according to the National Pork Board. The virus can’t be passed to humans and isn’t generally dangerous to older pigs either. Scientists and vets told Reuters that mortality among piglets, however, can go from 50 all the way to 100 percent. The impact of the disease won’t be seen in the marketplace until late this year.
Once exposed, herds develop immunity within a matter of weeks, and the sows pass on the immunity on to future piglets.
The virus was first discovered in China in 2010, where it killed over a million piglets and it is widespread in Europe. No one is sure how it got to the United States, where it emerged up in mid-May.
At the same time, another diarrhea disease is also making the rounds, although this one is in people. The outbreak of cyclospora oddly parallel--also 15 states, with more than 370 confirmed (human) cases. The crown of summer diarrhea disease–which I thought of and therefore give out according to my own criteria–has to go to the PEDv, though. While cyclospora's spread via contaminated bagged salad has hospitalized 21 people, PEDv is estimated to have killed more than 60,000 piglets, and if I'm remembering Animal Farm correctly, pigs aren't so different from us.