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How Canada beat the PED virus

For the US pig industry, PED virus was a catastrophe. In Canada, however, the damage was a lot less. But why and how did they overcome it?

The dreaded bombshell that PED virus had reached Canada was dropped right during the Boar Pit Session, the conclusion to another successful Banff Pork Seminar on 17 January 2014. Dr Doug MacDougald, with Southwest Ontario Veterinary Services, the quarterback for the PED virus outbreak protocol in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba explains though that good biosecurity on exclusion and the ability to keep the virus from entering new pig sites with elimination strategies, helped prove that it was possible to eliminate it from any type of pig farm configuration.

"The really great news is that with being successful in all those areas, we really prevented the widespread of the virus throughout Ontario and Canada," says Dr MacDougald. "I'm hopeful we can use Canada's experience with PED to prepare for the next emerging disease that occurs in Canada."

Pig Progress: Can you define the current state of the Canadian industry in relation to the PED virus?

Dr Doug MacDougald: "Ontario obviously has had the majority of the cases. Western Canada a small number, and they are all eliminated now. Quebec had a small number of cases, I think 15 sites infected or contaminated and they predict that they will be negative by late autumn. Ontario had 53 cases from the first indexed case 2 January 2014, and we ended up with 63 cases through until this summer of last year. We thought, based on the biosecurity and the high successful elimination of the virus of most of those 63 primary cases, that if we could get through to this spring [2015] with less than 20 new cases we’d be in a great position - dealing with fewer pathogens and potential elimination direction. Since last summer through until now, we've had a total of 21 cases in Ontario. So we really set our objective that containment strategies are vital - that is just good biosecurity strategy, to not have the virus escape from an infected site."

What went through your mind when you had to report Canada's first case of PED virus while participating in the concluding Boar Pit Session at the Banff Pork Congress in January 2014. What was the first thing you felt needed doing?

"The first thing we absolutely had to do and did, was track any potential contacts with that index - farm, transports, pig movements, other truck services, and step up our surveillance and monitoring of any potential contacts to see if there was a virus in any other place. That is really classic epidemiology; you look at it, and do surveillance on any potential contacts and determine where else that virus might be. Then start tracking new cases as they occur because you have no idea how many new cases will pop up, and we certainly had no idea that feed contamination would be driving that. We thought it would simply reside in and primarily be transported pig movement and end up in the assembly yards."

What is the key to getting us where the industry is today?

"We were somewhat prepared. I mean we could never be totally prepared, but because it was identified in May 2013 in the US, and the fact that some of us, myself included, were very involved in the US industry, it gave us some advantage. The production which I oversee the health of in the US, was experiencing PED, so I had hands on experience with it, so it wasn't just a theoretical disease for us. Having that time, from May 2013 to January 2014, to prepare and put some things in place, helped the Canadian situation immensely. We had implemented a project through the Ontario Health Swine Advisory Board, OSHED, and Ontario Pork, doing surveillance on returning US livestock trucks, putting measures in place identifying the gaps of biosecurity on that transport, and trying to plug those gaps as best we could. We were, and correctly so, putting the returning trucks from the US as the primary risk factor for introduction of PED into Canada. Being well along on plugging the identified gaps and having much more confidence on returning truck biosecurity; all of that stood us in good stead.

We were ramped up with testing, so our labs were able to escalate very quickly and do hundreds and hundreds of tests in a short period of time because we were ready for that. That greatly enabled us to do more widespread surveillance, follow up and do extensive testing on a surveillance basis and for helping identify the feed contamination as well. The industry could mobilise very quickly and that really together with the sharing of information through that response team, enabled us to connect the dots and identify feed contamination as the risk factor and shut that down very quickly."

Looking at it from a veteran media person's perspective, to be able to contact people like yourself and then the transparency through media and communications, that for me is a real key.

"I agree, although that was also one of our frustrations. We learned that for our response team to be truly affective we really needed to have a communication subgroup as part of that response team to able to communicate in real time as objectively as possible to all the people on the response team and to the greater industry as to what was happening.

That is a lesson learned that hopefully, if there is a next time or another emerging disease, we will be able to communicate in real time even more effectively as to what is happening. So people are not basing decisions on imagination or fear, but on the actual best information available.

If you were to summarise this experience, what did you 
personally learn, and what did the industry learn?

"We learned an awful lot about a coronavirus, that it is a faecal-oral route and that it is not that tough to stop. It is faecal-oral, not primarily airborne, and thus relatively easy, once we got past the feed contamination, and using the Canadian National Biosecurity standards as the standards of good biosecurity, we can keep it out.

We also learned a lot about how to eliminate it from reaching a group of our colleagues, well immersed in the US industry, acting as our advisers. With three primary US vets, very generous with their time, we worked through our strategies here in Ontario.

We also learned how to eliminate it much more quickly from sow sites. One of the last cases we had in the spring was a 1,500 sow farrow to wean site. From the time they were clinically affected, in March, we implemented immediate strategies. In four weeks' time they were able to eliminate that virus. That is about as fast as it really can happen."

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