MONROE CITY, Mo. —
The disease was first diagnosed in this country in April of last year, popping up in several states at the same time. Researchers say the virus is virtually identical to one originating in China. But they haven’t figured out how it jumped continents, or even how it spread once it got here.
Missouri saw its first case late last year. Since then, roughly 5 percent — 119 farms — of the state’s hog producers have claimed outbreaks. Illinois farmers have reported 360 cases spread throughout the state’s 2,900 hog farms.
“It’s not like there’s one pocket that’s worse than other areas,” said Tim Maiers, spokesman for the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
Across the nation, at least 5,000 farms have been hit. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s March report on the industry estimated there’s been a 3 percent drop in the nation’s pig inventory over the past year. Though that is, at best, an informed guess.
Because reporting has been voluntary, many in the industry think the tally may be considerably higher. But we may soon have a better idea of the damage, following April’s announcement by the USDA that farms and testing labs will be required to report outbreaks of the disease that’s proving troublesome to fight.
The virus is known to spread through the transfer of tiny amounts of fecal matter. It may have an airborne element as well. The fact that it popped up in several states at the same time suggests it could be related to some product used on farms. Among those suspects is starter feed — given to piglets to bridge the gap between nursing and eating grain — that includes plasma from slaughtered hogs.
“This virus doesn’t have the ability to crawl under doors or jump from tall buildings. But there is something that’s happening that we don’t yet understand,” said Paul Sundberg, vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board, which has invested $1.7 million researching the virus.