Virus Targets Baby Pigs

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A disease sweeping U.S. hog farms will likely kill hundreds of thousands of piglets. There's no cure for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, and it's cropped up in at least 13 states. Hog farmers, already reeling from high feed costs, will take a hit, and the virus could eventually push pork prices higher.


And the agriculture industry is dealing with a new worry: a virus that is spreading through farms. It has killed hundreds of thousands of baby pigs.

Frank Morris from member station KCUR has more.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Like most hog farmers, Brent Sandidge in Missouri has been losing money lately.

BRENT SANDIDGE: We've had a drought, and record high feed prices, so that would be the last thing you'd need, another hit.

MORRIS: But that hit came this spring for some with the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus.

Bob Morrison at the University of Minnesota says the excrement from infected pigs is loaded with the bug.

BOB MORRISON: So you've got a fire hose of virus coming out, and the U.S. industry has no immunity to this virus.

MORRIS: If one pig on a farm gets it, they all do. The youngest die.

LISA BECTON: Right now, there is no cure.

MORRIS: Lisa Becton at National Pork Board says farmers were already on high alert to keep pathogens from other pig farms out of their own.

BECTON: Making sure people aren't bringing in dirty equipment, or boots or coveralls.

MORRIS: That hasn't quite done the trick. The virus has spread to 15 states, though only about 300 farms, infecting a small percentage of U.S. pigs - no people, by the way. Humans can't get it.

Meanwhile, scientists like Hank Harris are on the offensive.

HANK HARRIS: We're in the process of developing a vaccine for the PED virus.

MORRIS: Harris, at Iowa State, had been thinking about a vaccine for Asia, where the disease has killed millions of pigs.

HARRIS: As soon as this occurred in the United States, we were able to get the correct sequence of the virus, actually off the Internet.

MORRIS: They hope the vaccine will be ready for market by fall.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

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