When you pull your chair up to bacon and grits in the morning, you are probably not thinking about the pork farmer, standing knee deep in piglets, on her farm.
But you should. Because her heart is breaking right now. Her piglets are dying from a new viral disease, recently imported from China, that is decimating US pig herds. You can read more about Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus here. But, if you want to know what PEDv means to a pig farmer, read this story, please:
Attempting to protect your piglets from an invisible predator
that lurks in unknown corners is truly agony. There’s the intense waiting phase where you feel that every road you drive on could stick the virus to your tires. Then … every baby pig that looks at you funny just might be the pig that is breaking with the disease. Why does that sow seem to not want to eat as much today? Will the start be just one pig that is sick? How will I ever know that we have it?
And then there’s the definite answer. Those pigs looked a little under the weather yesterday and today they are clinging to life.. These pigs have the classic PEDv [lesions] … the pigs in the next room look beautiful, and there is not one thing that you are going to do to keep them looking that way.
… [please read the story posted on line by clicking this link, but basically, this farmer reports that all of her weanlings died, and then each new litter of pigs also died, until gradually the mothers developed immunity and the first few weanlings survived. . . ]
Finally, Bliss. That is the only word that described it for me. I think I took 100 selfies holding that first plump, healthy little five-day-old pig after we had broke [the spread of the virus]. Yet, I find my head spinning. PEDv came and swept like a wildfire, wreaking havoc through my barns for what seemed like an eternity. But the reality is that that first healthy pig was born just 13 days after it all began. Amazing.
Now, every day with these little buggers is a joy and a relief to have them back and healthy. I take pictures of me with a baby piglet every day and send it off to family members. “Look at this one! Ten days old.” “Thirteen days and not even a sneeze from this one!” Of course every pig looks the same to them, but for me it is a true milestone to hold each and every one of them.
Going through PED has given me an even stronger love for my job if that were even possible. These pigs are my responsibility. They depend on me for their care and good health. It gives me a great sense of purpose and fulfillment to have a passion for what I do and the animals that I do it for.
Now if that isn’t straight from the heart, I don’t know what is. I read that story, and I am ready to help. How can we do that? By making vaccines for pigs. Faster. Better. And letting Erin know that we can do that. I’ll bet you anything that the next Erin, hog farmer, in the next state over, or at the next farm, will want to know what we are up to and will want that vaccine for her pigs, before PEDv lays them low.
Now, you say, what is PEDv? It’s a terrible virus that arrived in the United States less than a year ago, from China. is spreading from farm to farm, killing piglets and forcing farmers to use ‘feed-back’ (feeding pigs their own excrement) in a desperate attempt to protect the rest of their herds from the disease. No licensed vaccine is yet available for the new virus, Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV).
Mortality rates are nearly 100% for piglets under 10-14 days old, which is contributing to a significant drop in pork production. Weaned piglets are less likely to die, but PEDV still causes severe diarrhea in these young pigs. Growth rates may be impaired and nursery performance is affected. Older pigs experience only a one-week lag in growth. Between the time that PEDV emerged in the United States in May 2013 to July (3 months later), the virus had already been confirmed in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas. As of January 2014, the USDA reported, a total of 1,946 PEDV-positive cases in more than 20 states (www.aasv.org).
And according to Smithfield, Food Inc., the world’s largest pork producer, 2 – 3 million swine will lose their lives to PEDV this year, or up to 3% of the industry’s total. Yes, pork prices are going up. And piglets are dying. And, it’s not over yet. PEDv continues to spread. Read about it on Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-19/hog-futures-soar-to-two-year-high-on-pork-demand-cattle-advance.html. Read about it on the Pork Checkoff (a very good pork producer website) Pork farmers are preparing for a very bad year.
Now you ask, since when is EpiVax engaged in making vaccines for pigs? Truth be known, we have a program called FarmVax, that is a collaboration with University of Rhode Island. A very bright student named Andres Gutierrez Nunez joined as the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, our academic partner, as a doctoral student, and he’s been making great headway, designing pig vaccines. He’s been working on swine influenza (yes, pigs get flu too) with Crystal Loving of the USDA, but this post, from pig farmer Erin convinced him (I think) that PEDv is a truly bad, horrible virus, and that we should work on it too.
We have the toolkit that we need, already, borrowed from our human vaccine design tools (read more about that here). In short, Yes we CAN design a vaccine that contains conserved elements of PEDv that this wildly mutating virus cannot escape from. Yes we CAN design a vaccine the promote protective immune responses in mother pigs, driving protective immunity for their piglets. And yes we CAN design that vaccine in just a few months (read about our faster vaccine approach here). Given the funds, we can make it happen. And, after reading about Erin Brennemen’s heart break, How can we NOT?
If you read this, and know how we can move this project forward, get directly in touch with me through our contact page. We definitely want to see more happy hog farmers posting piglet Selfies, not heartbreak, on the web.