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PED Case Study from Ontario

12 September 2014

A case study of one of the first Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea (PED) outbreaks in Ontario, Canada, in January 2014, published by Ontario Pork. Strong communications and a multi-faceted support system are identified as crucial for success in mitigating the negative impacts of the virus on the pig industry.

Dr Sue Burlatschenko
Dr Sue Burlatschenko

Introduction

This case occurred in the very early stages of the PED outbreak in Ontario. It involved a farrow-to-finish farm, located in southwestern Ontario, which is a liquid-feed facility with more than 500 sows. The owners - the Van Deelen family - have been in the business for 10 years and the attending veterinarian was Dr Sue Burlatschenko.

It was the fourth herd in Canada to be diagnosed with PED in late January 2014, according to Ontario Pork.

Challenge

The producer noticed bad scours in a couple of litters in a 24-hour period, which they proceeded to treat but it quickly escalated and went through the whole farrowing room, with many piglets vomiting.

Mr Van Deelen said: “We’re in a pretty isolated area and there’s no other pig farm around, so we found it hard to believe, especially given our excellent biosecurity protocols, this would happen. We thought this (PED) isn’t something we have to worry about. At worst, it’ll be over in two to three weeks.”

The focus was on developing a strategy to contain it, as the thought process quickly shifted from ‘How did this happen?’ to ‘How are we going to keep this from migrating?’

Dr Sue Burlatschenko said: "At that point, your blood sort of freezes in your veins because you don’t know what’s going on. Is it Transmissible Gastro Enteritis (TGE) or is it PED that’s already hit the US? The best thing to do is get a diagnosis at the lab. Any unusual activity has to be reported in compliance with the Animal Health Act, so we immediately notified the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).”

Response Strategy

Immediately after being notified of the positive test by the University of Guelph Animal Health Laboratory, OMAFRA contacted Ontario Pork to communicate the instance of a confirmed case and discuss next steps and management strategy. The OMAFRA response team, including veterinarians and the epidemiology unit, quickly sprang into action and worked with the owner of the farm gathering movement, site and herd information.

It is important to note that the identity and exact location of the confirmed cases are not disclosed to the public by OMAFRA. This protocol helps to enforce Ontario’s privacy laws that protect the privacy of individuals and helps to minimise traffic to and from the site given the contagiousness of the virus.

There is a deep psychological aspect to managing an issue of this magnitude. For producers, whose livelihood is at stake based on the effectiveness of the response strategy – which involves many stakeholders beyond their direct control – it’s particularly distressing.

Ongoing support and frequent communication become a lifeline and a means of managing the isolation.

Dr Burlatschenko said: “I was on the phone with the producer probably six times a day as things were progressing. When you’re confronted by something that’s completely foreign, you start asking yourself what you are going to do. When you see all this activity going on around you, while still trying to run a farm and keep your staff informed about the situation, it’s easy to see how it can become overwhelming.”

Regular phone calls with the treating veterinarian, timely updates from OMAFRA and industry, as well as heightened biosecurity measures, all played a role in bringing a sense of calm and purpose in dealing with the issue.

The producer, who runs a closed herd operation, instituted a voluntary lock-down. He also kept a very detailed log system to track movement in and out of the farm, which helped provide some leads to the OMAFRA team investigating the case.

Fortunately, he did not need to send pigs to market for a week. That meant there was a limited period of time in the production cycle where he could concentrate on managing the outbreak without having to worry about overcrowding or potential welfare issues.

Mr Van Deelen explained: “It’s tough to see piglets die and we lost about 20 per cent of our population. The whole barn was infected in a span of four days, but you have to do what’s right, even though you’re not quite sure what’s coming next.

“You also understand you’re not going through this alone. Perhaps more importantly, you realise you’re not doing this just for yourself but for the entire industry.”

Basic protocols were instituted which included heightened biosecurity.

Suppliers were immediately notified of the positive PED status. The sow herd was also exposed to the virus in order to possibly reduce its spread and to create colostral immunity for piglets.

Early weaning – down to seven days – was instituted and piglets moved immediately to the nursery.

Electrolytes were provided to the early weaned piglets along with creep pellets. Amazingly, these pigs survived although they were smaller for their age than their counterparts.

Boots and coveralls were placed in each farrowing room in order to reduce transfer of the virus from room to room, and processing equipment was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • As a producer, don’t sit back and think: “Well, I’m going to be next and I’ll just deal with it.” Be proactive. Institute and enforce strict biosecurity measures to try and keep the virus out of your barns.
  • Sanitation and disinfection is paramount. Proper washing and disinfecting remains the most effective way to keep the virus at bay, but lack of financial resources (ongoing funding) and structural limitations (e.g. not enough truck washes) are persistent barriers to ensuring 100 per cent effectiveness.
  • The PED virus lives in all seasons. It certainly loves the cold and it’s less tolerant of warmer temperatures. PED will hang around longer whereas previous viruses (such as TGE) would be quickly deactivated by warm weather.
  • We’re not out of the woods yet. As this point, with the limitations of our PED knowledge, our best hope is to contain it, because eradication is much further down the road.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Do not consider it a failure if your herd is diagnosed as PED positive. Despite best efforts, there are countless ways that it may have been transmitted on to your farm. It is what you do to contain it that is the true measure of success.

Conclusion

This case provides a glimpse of how disheartening it can be for producers to deal with the presence of PED in their barn. It takes an emotional toll and creates a financial burden that compounds the distress over animal loss.

While it is too early to draw any wide-ranging conclusions since the Ontario pork industry has not gone through a full PED cycle and each case has its own unique characteristics, some tried-and-tested methods have emerged to help contain its spread.

However, beyond all the safeguards and protocols, strong communications and a multi-faceted support system are central to the industry’s success in mitigating the negative impact of the virus on the pig farming community.

Further Reading

Find out more information on PED by clicking here.

September 2014

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