Porcine epidemic diarrhea detected for 1st time in Alberta

A hog truck has tested positive for porcine epidemic diarrhea — a disease that has killed more than 8 million pigs in the United States.

Alberta Agriculture discovered the virus on livestock truck, but not in pigs

While there have been several small outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea in Ontario and Manitoba, the fast-spreading virus has not hit western Canadian herds. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

A deadly virus that killed more than eight million pigs in the United States in 2014 and caused pork prices to soar has been detected in Alberta.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED, was discovered on Aug. 2 on a livestock trailer.

"This is the first time, yes, we've detected PED in a truck," said Julia Keenliside, a veterinary epidemiologist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

"So it means that the virus was there at some point, but we don't know if it's alive and capable of infecting pigs. What we do know is the protein from the virus sticks around a long time in the environment. So, it is very easy to find it — if it was ever there."   

The livestock trailer was not carrying any hogs at the time it tested positive, but rather, it was returning to Canada from a swine processing plant in Wisconsin. 

The truck was immediately grounded, washed and disinfected. After that, it was re-tested and no longer carried the virus. 

Virus targets piglets

"It's one of the scariest bugs that the industry has seen in a long time," said Frank Novak, chairman of Alberta Pork.

PED infects the cells lining the small intestine of a pig. For piglets, this is very bad news.

"If baby pigs get it, they basically die within two days."

That's because their bodies haven't developed the reserves needed to fight off the disease and absorb nutrients, so they succumb to diarrhea and death.

Mortality rates can be up to 100 per cent for piglets less than a week old.

'If baby pigs get it, they basically die within two days,' says Frank Novak with Alberta Pork about the deadly pig virus known as PED. (liz west, flickr cc)

Alberta pigs have 'never' had virus

While there have been several small PED outbreaks in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and P.E.I., the fast-spreading virus has not hit western Canadian herds.

"I want to emphasis that we don't have porcine epidemic in Alberta, we've never had a case in pigs," said Keenliside.

"We're one of the few places in the world that has actually been able to keep this disease out for this long." 

While the province has been running a swine virus surveillance project for the last three years, Keenliside says it's completely voluntary.

"We don't mandate that. The industry is very proactive and been very cooperative — the transport industry, Alberta Pork, the producers, the processors, the assembly yards — everyone has collaborated just fantastically." 

Novak hopes it stays that way.

"We know that transportation and livestock transport trailers are our number one source of risk for this bug getting into western Canada," he said.

"So, the only thing we can do is put in place really strict protocols and say that every single trailer that goes into the United States has to come back and be washed according to the standards that we know and need in order to get rid of the bug."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener