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Be on your guard... autumn could bring new avian flu threat

by 5m Editor
11 September 2006, at 10:20am

UK - This autumn may bring fresh cases of avian flu if the catalyst is migratory birds, reports Ian Campbell.

National
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National Pig Association
THE VOICE OF THE UK PIG INDUSTRY

NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & Whitehall, and with processors, supermarkets & caterers - fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

The biggest issue of all to get over to everyone is that avian flu is not a pig disease and therefore whatever restrictions apply to infected poultry farms only affect pigs if they are on the same premises.

Even in that situation, local judgement might decide the pig and poultry enterprises are sufficiently separate not to impact on one another. In such circumstances pig movement might be able to carry on.

In the last major outbreak of avian flu in the Netherlands, pigs were found that were sero-positive to the virus.

No virus was found in those pigs, they never became infectious and it is likely that the serum conversion occurred because the pigs had been eating eggs carrying the virus.

A fact we tend to forget is that viral transfer between species does not happen easily and generally requires a very large dose; the chances of a pig picking it up from casual contact are pretty remote. This applies to both high and low pathogenic strains of the virus.

Generally speaking, the migrating wild birds most likely to carry the virus are water fowl. The ones that travel already infected and are capable of reaching these shores are the big chaps, such as geese and swans. Smaller birds are likely to snuff it at sea.

Where an infected site contains pigs and poultry, the birds will be slaughtered and the pigs will be tested. Two tests, 14 days apart, will be carried out on the older pigs on the unit and it is desirable that the same pigs are done twice.

In the event of no pigs showing sero-positive, there should be no restriction on the movement and marketing of slaughter pigs. If pigs were to become sero-positive it is possible that the individuals might be culled and not enter the human food chain; this would not impact on the rest of the pigs on the unit.

In the very unlikely event that virus was found in the pigs, those pigs would definitely be destroyed and restrictions would remain on the herd until the source of the virus is identified. Remember, to date no pig has been found with the virus or become viraemic.

What then should we doing in the industry in the face of this limited threat?

If you have pig and poultry enterprises on the same unit, think how you might separate the physical traffic so that possible poultry restrictions didn’t impact on pig movement.

Despite the very low risk of avian flu directly infecting pigs, take sensible precautions on biosecurity. Spend some money, if that is what is required, to make feeders more bird proof; consider how you might reduce the presence of gulls, crows etc. at feeding time. Consider the suggestion of feeding occasionally along the line of the electric fence to deter the birds. It isn’t just avian flu that should be on your mind. Reports continue to come in of classical swine fever and foot-and-mouth in the European Union border countries and as far as I am aware, cost effective insurance against business disruption, is still not available on the market.

The very serious debate on cost-sharing for notifiable disease control should add to everyone’s determination to take whatever steps they can to limit the potential for incoming disease to impact on their business. The size of any future outbreak may depend on your biosecurity and the cost to everyone in the industry will depend on how much we can limit the spread of virus.

We seriously considered whether NPA should commission a signboard for members to use at farm entrances but after consultation with the breeding companies, decided that they all had stocks of such signs and it didn’t make sense to use membership money for this purpose. Examples of the boards are given here.

We intend to dust off the self-assessment bio-security document that we worked on 18 months ago and see how useful it can be.

I hope this update is useful. The government is responsible for much of disease control but we are crazy if we don’t help ourselves.

ThePigSite News Desk

5m Editor