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Spreading pig virus may curb U.S. pork supply, veterinarians say

CHICAGO -- A swine virus that has spread to 16 states since April is killing piglets and slowing growth in older hogs, threatening to curb U.S. pork output, according to a report by industry veterinarians.

There are about 331 confirmed cases of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, according to a report posted today prepared by the National Animal Health Laboratories Network and posted on the American Association of Swine Veterinarians' website. Most of the animals affected have been older pigs that may stop eating for two to three days and then typically recover. Suckling pigs, which are about three weeks old or younger, have seen as high as 100 percent mortality.

"If it becomes endemic in a particular farm, then it translates to poor performance and poor growth of the pig," James Collins, the director of the veterinary diagnostic laboratory at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, said in a telephone interview. "That's a reduction in the pork supply, I suspect, but we don't know fully the extent of how fast it's spreading or how it's going to be controlled."

The "absolute number" of pigs that have died isn't tracked, which makes it difficult to estimate the impact on production, said Tom Burkgren, the executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. The effect can be "pretty severe" on an individual farm when the virus wipes out two to three weeks of newborn pigs, Burkgren said. Mortality in suckling and early weaned pigs is 30 percent to 100 percent, according to the Iowa Pork Industry Center.

While Iowa, the biggest U.S. hog producer, has 130 cases, the most of any state, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Texas have at least one case, according to today's report.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a detection of the disease on May 17 and noted that it doesn't affect people and is not a food-safety concern. The virus is not a trade- restrictive disease and is widespread in many countries, according to the National Pork Board, an industry group.