The virus hits. Weaned hogs sicken, lose fluids — in just about every imaginable way — and weaken for a few days until the virus passes through their system. It’s like having the flu.
But in nursing piglets, the consequences are far worse.
A fast-moving coronavirus, so called for crown-like spikes on its microscopic surface, has infected hogs over much of Indiana and across more than half the U.S. since it was introduced on American soil less than a year ago. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus doesn’t infect humans and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it’s not a food safety risk, but the virus — called PED for short — is almost universally fatal in young piglets who haven’t been weaned from their mothers.
“They dehydrate. They can’t keep enough fluids in their system,” said Sam Moffitt, Flora, who’s pork production manager at North Wind Pork which operates three sow barns weaning about 250,000 pigs per year.
Moffitt should know. He’s seen the virus sweep through two of the operation’s three sow barns since the beginning of December.
Once a sow becomes sick, it’s like a bad case of the flu and she stops birthing piglets for about three weeks. Her nursing piglets must be weaned off if at all possible.
“The pig’s only source of food is the momma sow, and she’s got the virus in her so it’s all in her milk,” Moffitt explained. “That’s their only source of nutrition.”
North Wind Pork had to wean some piglets off of their sows as young as 8 days old to keep them from dehydrating. Normally, piglets are weaned at 18 to 21 days old.
PED has infected farms in 43 of Indiana’s 92 counties, including Cass and every surrounding county, according to March 14 data from the Indiana State Board of Animal Health. Across the U.S., 26 other states have reported cases of the virus as of March 12, a report from the National Animal Health Laboratory Network indicates.