U of M Lab Creates Test to Detect Virus Killing Pigs

Updated: 01/28/2014 7:35 AM
Created: 01/27/2014 4:33 PM
By: Todd Wilson

There is a silent and deadly virus wiping out young pigs throughout the nation and right here in Minnesota.

"Over the last about eight weeks we've seen a large uptick in the amount of cases here in Minnesota," David Preisler of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association said. The virus is called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, or PED for short.

Preiseler says in Minnesota we produce about 15 million head of pigs per year. It ranks us second in the U.S. for pork production behind Iowa.

"We have several hundred farms now in Minnesota that have tested positive for this virus, and it's caused some pretty severe losses on some of those farms," he said.

So far, roughly 3 million pigs have died nationwide. If those pigs are worth $200 each at market, the loss in cold cash is somewhere around $600 million.

Here's where the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Lab comes into the equation. Dr. Michael Murtaugh and his team created a test to identify the virus in pigs through blood or saliva.

"This is a really important tool because it helps predict if pigs might have immunity and so are able to resist infection," Murtaugh said. Dr. Murtaugh started working on the test in July of last year; by September they had a test finalized. He says the trials have been a success.

"The test is accurate more than 96 percent of the time," he said. "So if you look at 10 pigs out of a herd, you can be certain to tell if the herd is positive or negative."

Murtaugh says it's unclear how the PED virus got into the United States, and right now there is no cure for the virus.

Murtaugh wants to make it clear PED is not a threat to humans, other animals or food safety. The hardest hit right now are the pigs and farmers.

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