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Penn Vet monitoring program reduces illnesses on Pa. pig farms

By Katherine Unger Baillie | | 215-898-9194 Published: Jan 27, 2016

Infectious disease can take a major toll on swine farms. Two diseases in particular have hit Pennsylvania hard over the last decade: porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome (PRRS) and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED). But thanks to a monitoring effort headquartered at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, the impact of these illnesses has been significantly reduced.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center created a regional control program for swine disease in 2007. The effort is currently funded by the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council. Though entirely voluntary, the program’s database now includes about 90 percent of the pigs in the state—1.3 million animals.

Dr. Meghann Pierdon manages the day-to-day operations of the Pennsylvania Regional Control Program for swine disease.The program relies on transparency by its participants to avoid the spread of disease. To be included, swine producers share the addresses of each of their barns and allow their veterinarians to submit a report to the program if PRRS or PED is diagnosed in one of their animals. That report is then shared with every producer in the state by email or, in the case of some Mennonite swine farmers, by fax, and Amish swine farmers by quarterly mailings.

“It takes a leap of faith for a farmer to say, ‘I have this disease, it’s on my farm,’” says Meghann Pierdon, a large animal veterinarian at New Bolton Center and former Penn Vet student, who manages the regional control program. “They have to trust that the end result is worth it.”

If a farmer learns that a nearby barn has an infection, straightforward steps can cut down on the likelihood that the disease will spread. Producers and vets visiting an infected barn can, for example, take special care to shower and change clothes before entering and exiting the facility. Disinfectant can be applied to the tires of trucks coming onto a farm. And simply changing the order of a feed delivery, visiting the infected farm last, can also reduce the risk of transmission.

To protect vulnerable piglets, the program can also help ensure that no pigs from farms with a diagnosed case of PED or PRRS are transferred to or near a sow farm.

A Pennsylvania Regional Control Program map, which pinpoints locations where pigs have tested positive for disease“We try to be proactive and make kind of a buffer around sow farms,” Pierdon says.

The result has been a reduction in disease and an avoidance of widespread outbreaks that some other states have experienced.

“In 2012 when I started, 24.5 percent of pigs in the program were located on a farm that had been positive for PRRS,” says Pierdon. “This year, that number has dropped by a third to 16.7 percent. That’s a lot fewer animals that have gotten sick, and for the producer, that’s a big financial impact as well.”

About Penn Vet

Ranked among the top ten veterinary schools worldwide, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is a global leader in veterinary education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the first veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling nearly 35,300 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles nearly 5,300 patient visits a year, while the Field Service treats more than 38,000 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

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