JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) -- A fast-spreading virus that can kill 80 percent of piglets that contract it is rapidly spreading across Missouri hog farms, wiping out entire nurseries in some cases.
Porcine epidemic diarrhea has killed 4 million to 5 million pigs nationwide, or about 4 percent of the pigs that would go to market later this year, The Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/1fhL44A ).
"We had our first initial case in December in northern Missouri," said Marcia Shannon, a swine nutrition specialist with the University of Missouri-Columbia. "Since then, there has been an explosion of it, especially in the first two weeks of February. I would consider it widespread now, especially north of Interstate 70."
About 3,000 farms in Missouri have pigs, she said, and any size farm is susceptible.
Ron Plain, livestock economist with the University of Missouri, said he expects most of the state's hog farms to be touched by the epidemic.
"We're adding 300 farms per week to the list of infected farms. I think most all will wind up with the disease," Plain said. "The average slaughter age is 6 months. So we will see the impact of this in six months. We do know it has impacted the futures market for hog contracts. We're at record levels now."
With no evidence that the virus can be transmitted to humans, people who live near industrial hog farms where piglet deaths have been reported shouldn't be concerned, Shannon said.
"The virus does not pose a food safety risk. Humans are not going to get it," she said.
Porcine epidemic diarrhea, which is believed to have originated in Europe in the 1970s and remains uncontrolled in China and other parts of Asia, appeared in the U.S. last spring and has spread to more than 27 states.
"For a producer who is hit by PED, it can be pretty serious," Shannon said. "If you have 400 litters with 10 pigs in a litter, that's 4,000 piglets that have been lost. It's devastating to those individuals."
Missouri's pork industry employs more than 25,000 people, including in the feed, processing, transportation and packing areas, Missouri Pork Association executive director Don Nikodim said.
He agrees there will be fewer pigs in the market chain by this summer, and prices will rise as worldwide demand for meat continues to grow.
"Enhanced biosecurity measures have had a positive impact, but there still has been a considerable baby pig loss," Nikodim said. "The producers are working through it."
Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com