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Virus threat to keep pigs from Big Butler Fair

| Saturday, June 14, 2014, 5:42 p.m.

No swine will be shown at this year's Big Butler Fair as a precaution against a contagious virus that has killed 10 percent of the nation's pigs, officials said.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus has spread into 27 states, including Pennsylvania, said Amy Bradford, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council.

She said she didn't know whether if the disease is present in Butler County herds, and that the state's data base does not break down cases by county.

While only a small number of commercial pork producers operate in Butler County, many youngsters here raise pigs, said Ken Kephart, a former Penn State professor who specialized in swine.

The board of directors for the Big Butler Fair decided the virus poses enough of a danger to exclude swine when the fair kicks of June 27, officials said. The fair ends July 5.

Harold Kennedy, member of the Big Butler Fair board of directors, said he has not heard reports of the virus surfacing in Butler County, but the fair wanted to be careful.

“So many of the pigs come back home, and if there is a disease out there, it could be brought back to the farm,” he said. “Nobody wants to take a chance of this disease coming back to the farm.”

The virus, known as PEDv, entered the United States in 2013 and does not pose a threat to humans, other animals or food safety, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The intestinal virus causes extreme diarrhea, Bradford said. PEDv has close to a 100 percent mortality rate in piglets. There is no cure or vaccine.

“As a pig gets older, we're seeing some ability to fight the virus better,” Bradford said.

Piglets have underdeveloped immune systems and are more susceptible to any disease, including PEDv, she said.

“The virus is new to the entire U.S. herd, so the mothers don't have any immunity built up to the virus, so they can't pass that immunity on to the piglets,” she said.

Ten percent of the nation's pigs have died, authorities said. Last summer, hog futures prices averaged about 90 cents per pound. On Wednesday, they opened at 125.7 cents per pound, according to CNBC market reports. Bradford said it was hard to say if the disease directly affected pork prices.

Jim Lokhaiser, who oversees grounds and building rental at the Butler Farm Show, said the show, Aug. 4-9, would still allow swine, but there would be extra precautions.

“The 4-H groups in Butler meet at least once a month, and they understand what the problems may be,” he said. “No animal will be unloaded without a thorough inspection.”

While the disease cannot be cured, further spreading can be prevented.

“The greatest control measures that pork producers of any size can do is to maintain a high level of biosecurity,” Bradford said.

Properly cleaning and disinfecting vehicles and equipment used to transport and feed swine, using disposable coveralls and boots and making sure manure is contained and not spread to other herds could help ensure the disease does not spread, Bradford said.

On June 5, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ordered farmers to report cases of PEDv to the federal government and pledged more than $26 million in funding to combat the disease.

Corinne Kennedy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7823 or ckennedy@tribweb.com.

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