U.S. universities monitor pig virus during gov’t shutdown

As the federal government shutdown stretches into its second week, veterinary labs at U.S. universities are stepping into a data gap to collect information and publish updates about an outbreak of a swine virus deadly to young pigs, according to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

The University of Minnesota’s diagnostic lab staff last week contacted four other university labs that have been testing samples for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv).

The results were sent to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, which published the information through its website, according to researchers and the agricultural veterinarian group.

“Due to the government shutdown, (National Animal Health Laboratory Network) was unable to provide the updated information” for last week’s update, according to a statement on AASV’s website. “Thanks to all the labs for their willingness to participate.”

Since early June, the U.S. Agriculture Department’s NAHLN has been used as a centralized electronic hub to collect and validate data on testing results and track the spread of PEDv. NAHLN is a disease-testing network of state, federal and university veterinary laboratories whose aim is to detect, respond to, and help the country recover from foreign and emerging animal diseases.

But last week, when the federal government partially shut down, USDA furloughed many employees at its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which issued regular testing reports, said diagnostic veterinary researchers.

University of Minnesota researchers said they plan to continue collecting the information from Iowa State University, Kansas State University and South Dakota State University until the government shutdown ends and APHIS staff return to work.

“It’s important to monitor the numbers, from the standpoint of having the information, and whether there are any large increases or decreases coming through” in positive PEDv cases, said Tom Burkgren, executive direction of the AASV.

According to the latest update, 684 separate cases have been reported in 17 states as of the week of Sept. 22, with most outbreaks occurring in Iowa (191), Oklahoma (164), Indiana (85) and North Carolina (76).

While the virus has not tended to kill older pigs, mortality among very young pigs infected in U.S. farms is commonly 75 to 100 percent, say veterinarians and scientists who are studying the outbreak.

The universities’ initiative recalls similar data collection efforts by the university diagnostic researchers this past spring, when the outbreak began and before the federal government joined in tracking it.

An APHIS spokesperson could not be reached for comment Monday.

— P.J. Huffstutter reports on agriculture for Reuters from Chicago.

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