Spread of hog virus alarms piglet-exporting province Manitoba

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The deadly pig disease PEDv (porcine epidemic diarrhea virus) is spreading faster than expected in Manitoba, Canada’s biggest piglet-producing province.

The number of cases this spring, 10, matches the total from the past three years combined, although the outbreak is not comparable in scale to PEDv’s spread across U.S. farms in 2013.

The Manitoba government confirmed on Thursday its most recent confirmed case of the virus, all occurring within about four weeks.

“It’s not huge at the moment, but we are really worried about this getting to 10 this quickly,” said Andrew Dickson, general manager of Manitoba Pork, an organization of pig farmers.

Hog supplies to Manitoba processing plants run by Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife remain adequate, Dickson said.

Manitoba ships large volumes of young pigs, called feeders, to the United States. Canada has exported 1.8 million feeder pigs to the United States in 2017 as of May 20, up 2 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Canada is the world’s biggest swine exporter, mostly to the United States.

A U.S. outbreak four years ago ultimately killed 8 million pigs, and pushed retail pork prices to record highs. PEDv causes severe dehydration and diarrhea in pigs, and is generally fatal to young animals.

All of the infected Manitoba farms are in the province’s southeast, but it is unclear how the virus is spreading since it has been detected at farms without any obvious connections to each other, Dickson said. The farms include mostly sow herds, which produce piglets, and finishing barns that raise pigs to slaughter weight.

One of Maple Leaf’s barns is among the confirmed Manitoba cases, spokesman Scott Bonikowsky said.

The next step will be regular sampling of 40 to 50 hog farms in southeast Manitoba, even those that do not have the virus, Dickson said.

The virus spreads best in cold, damp weather, but Manitoba’s weather has recently turned hot.

Manitoba’s neighboring province of Ontario has confirmed three PED cases this year, down from 14 in all of 2016, government spokeswoman Kristy Denette said.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Phil Berlowitz