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Nemesis of the pig industry

Deadly PRRS virus loves a mild winter

The extra mild winter in the Midwest this year wasn't enjoyed by Violet and Junior Van Gorp, pork producers near Newton, Iowa. A virulent strain of PRRS virus (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) hit their pig supplier --a nearby sow farm -- and hundreds of the weaned pigs that arrived at the Van Gorp's farm for finishing were sick. Months of hard work treating and vaccinating pigs, and hauling dead animals to the compost pile followed.

The winter "never got cold enough," says Darin Madson, assistant professor of pathology at the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, "It was a long, mild, overcast winter and the virus loved it." Madson says PRRS is an RNA virus and mutates (versus a DNA virus). "Every time it replicates there is a chance it will mutate. We have vaccines, but we can't predict mutations."

The PRRS virus is "the biggest nemesis in the history of the swine industry," says John Waddell, veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica. "It is a unique virus that thrives on variation. We have made tremendous progress, and have better vaccines, but there is no one silver bullet." The progress seems slow for producers like the Van Gorps who break with PRRS. Waddell says the PRRS virus is estimated to cost the U.S. swine industry $664 million annually.

 

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