European-like pig

Fabiana Torreao

A European-like version of a deadly virus affecting pigs might lead to increased production costs for American swine producers. The virus has no affect on consumers, however.
University researchers identified, for the first time in North America, a European-like strain of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus, a devastating virus that causes spontaneous abortion and pneumonia in pigs.
“PRRSV is probably the major infectious-disease concern in the swine industry,” said Kurt Rossow, assistant professor at the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic Medicine.
The European strain of the virus, distinct from the North American version, was identified in an Iowa herd by scientists from the University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
After recognizing typical symptoms of the porcine virus, an Iowan veterinarian submitted samples of the aborted fetuses to the University lab where genetic-sequence analysis identified the virus.
Kay Faaberg is the head of the laboratory responsible for the identification. She said she suspected for a long time that a European-like strain of the virus could be present in the United States.
The porcine virus was first identified in the mid-to-late 1980s, and it continues to present a problem for veterinarians and producers, Rossow said.
He points to the fact that since the viruses are prone to mutation, the introduction of a new strain “adds to the mix.”
Since there is no treatment for the virus, producers need to emphasize preventive measures, such as vaccinations and purchase of replacement sows.
Although the virus can be devastating to the livelihood of pork producers, it cannot infect people. In addition to being sensitive to high heat, the virus is found mostly in lung tissue, rarely in muscles. It does not represent a food safety concern, Rossow said.
The European-like strain of the virus is not new; rather, it is just another version of the virus.
“We just want people to know there is a different type of the virus,” Rossow said. “We don’t want people jumping to the conclusion that since there is a different virus, there will be an epidemic.”
Faaberg said genetic sequencing is a normal procedure in the lab, averaging 10 sequences per week. The University lab is the only one in the country that routinely does this kind of analysis, she said.
Virus isolation and genetic sequencing is estimated to cost between $150 to $200 per sequence, according to the National Pork Producers Council’s Web site.
Besides the University lab, the veterinary diagnostic laboratories from Iowa State University and South Dakota State University also perform the testing.

Fabiana Torreao covers St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]