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Virus spreads quickly in Minnesota hog country

A virus is spreading rapidly through some hog operations in Minnesota.

WORTHINGTON, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s pork industry is on edge over a deadly hog disease.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus was first reported in Minnesota last May. It doesn’t make humans sick, but the disease is shrinking herds and could mean higher prices at the grocery story, Minnesota Public Radio News reported (http://bit.ly/1jAPlqW ).

The number of cases in Minnesota has jumped by almost two-thirds in the past month, and the disease has been found in about 300 hog barns around the state, MPR reported.

Talk of the disease dominated a recent trade show at Minneapolis Convention Center, said David Preisler, executive director of Minnesota Pork Producers. Concern at the show was high enough that technicians swabbed hard surfaces in the convention center to check whether the virus had hitchhiked into the show on the shoes or clothes of attendees.

The virus wasn’t detected, but some farms had already decided not to send employees to avoid risking workers bringing home the virus.

The virus spreads rapidly, carried by manure or soil, and kills half or more of piglets that get the disease.

“If a pig is under seven days of age, they die,” said Michael Brumm, a North Mankato-based consultant for hog farmers. The disease destroys the inner lining of the intestines responsible for taking up nutrients, Brumm said. Dehydration sets in.

With no proven vaccine on the market, farmers are concentrating on keeping the virus out of their barns, Brumm said.

That means having visitors wear disposable plastic booties, washing hog trucks to knock off any of the virus, and inspecting new pigs carefully before they’re brought inside. Some operations even restrict what employees can do off the farm.

The financial risk is significant. A farm hit with the virus might lose about 10 percent of its annual pig production. AgStar Financial Services senior vice president Mark Greenwood said his firm projects between 3½ to 4 million pigs will be lost nationwide.

That loss of supply could help push pork prices up even faster than currently estimated. Although the disease poses no health threat to humans, fewer hogs will be coming to market. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers project a 2 to 3 percent rise in pork prices this year, a bit higher than usual.

Greenwood said the only positive in the disease outbreak is that the death toll is making individual hogs more valuable at slaughter. That means farmers with significant hard losses might still make a small profit.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org



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