K-State Expert Heads Disease Delegation in China

KANSAS - Millions of Chinese pigs are dying of a newly emerging disease. But, researchers are now a step closer to understanding the disease complex, thanks to the assistance of a Kansas State University virologist and a team of specialists who recently visited the country.
calendar icon 15 February 2008
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Dick Hesse, K-State's director of diagnostic virology, was part of a team that made a two-week visit to China at the end of last year. Their goal was to help Chinese scientists diagnose the disease that has stricken the pig population and to assist them with the technology and techniques to understand and control the disease.

Real-time PCR - polymerase chain reaction - assays developed at Tetracore and K-State were used to look for and provide rapid laboratory diagnosis of likely viral agents.

China's pig population has been devastated by Blue Ear/High-Fever Disease resulting in the deaths of millions of pigs. The disease complex has been raging through the country since 2006. A variant form of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) was believed to be the cause of the disease. The investigative team worked with prominent scientists from four research centers that have had extensive experience with the disease. The group also traveled to several farms to view the clinical signs up close and to collect samples.

"The problem in China's herd appears to be a multi factorial disease complex," said Hesse. Researchers did find porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, though not in all cases. The majority of the samples contained more than one type of virus. Classical swine fever virus, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus and porcine circovirus 2b were most commonly found in diseased pigs.

Minimal Control

Unfortunately there is limited monitoring of animal disease in China and this coupled with a lack of uniform practices among pig producers has allowed PRRS to flourish and spread to adjacent countries.

"What the Chinese need are efficacious porcine circovirus vaccines like those available in the US," he said.

The team suggested several biosecurity control mechanisms to hinder the spread of disease in China. They also made several suggestions to enhance US biosecurity.

"Situations like that in China remind us that the US pork industry is at significant risk from new disease agent introductions. This is why it's important to remain vigilant and ensure that our national biosecurity measures are in place and working," said Hesse. "If you have a disease that's capable of killing millions of pigs you want to make sure it stays out of the United States," he added.

Relationships with Chinese scientists were also established and are expected to lead to exchange opportunities for students and faculty at K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine. Ralph Richardson, dean of the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine, said such trips highlight the expertise at K-State as well as allow the university to reach out to collaborators.

"K-State is committed to enhancing animal and human health in Kansas, the United States and the world," said Richardson. "Animal and zoonotic diseases don't recognize geographic borders. Foreign exchange opportunities are one of the best ways to acquaint the veterinarians of tomorrow with diseases they might not see in common practice. This approach will ensure that up-and-coming veterinarians understand the animal health and food safety challenges before them on a global scale," he added.

The trip was sponsored by the National Pork Board, American Association of Swine Veterinarians and Tetracore Inc. Investigators included: Ying Fang, molecular virologist at South Dakota State University; Butch Baker, senior clinician of swine medicine at Iowa State University; Johnny Callahan, senior scientist specializing in viral assay development with Tetracore Inc.; and Eric Neumann, epidemiologist and senior lecturer in pig medicine at Massey University in New Zealand.
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