Fearing the spread of a deadly virus, the New York State Fair has suspended its piglets and sows exhibit and competition for 2014, and local fairs will likely take similar precautions.
The highly contagious porcine epidemic diarrhea virus first appeared in the Midwest in May 2013 and since has spread to about half the country, killing approximately 5 million piglets. There is no vaccine to protect pigs from it.
PED poses no risk to humans. It affects only swine, with piglets being most vulnerable. It kills nearly 100 percent of those that are infected when they are less than 10 days old.
According to David Smith, state veterinarian at the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, five cases of PED have been confirmed in New York, mainly in the western part of the state. None have been reported in the Capital Region.
The virus does not affect the safety of pork sold for human consumption, he stressed.
Piglets and nursing sows will not be on exhibit at the state fair to eliminate the threat of exposure to the animals at greatest risk of death from the virus, Smith said. Older swine, including sows, will still be on display.
PED is transmitted when pigs ingest infected feces. It can be spread from herd to herd when infected pigs are housed with healthy ones, or when infected manure is brought to a farm on dirty equipment or footwear.
Symptoms of the virus include diarrhea and vomiting.
“It is such a severe diarrhea that basically the pigs get dehydrated very quickly and then they will die because of that very rapid dehydration,” explained Lisa Becton, director of swine health information and research for the National Pork Board.
There will likely be no pigs at all at this year’s Schoharie County Sunshine Fair. Livestock area director Lois Goblet has made a recommendation to the fair’s board to eliminate the swine exhibit.
“What was really making me lay awake thinking was if one of our exhibitors came and was there for the eight-day fair, picked the virus up and brought it back to their home herd, it could wipe their home herd out,” she said.
Goblet, who raises pigs, said she has been tracking the virus for some time. At her family’s farm, she is taking precautions to prevent her swine from being infected. Visitors who come to see her sow and eight piglets are asked if they have recently been to another farm with pigs. If the answer is yes, they are not allowed to enter the barn. If it’s no, they are still required to wash their hands and wipe their boots on a mat soaked with disinfectant.
“People worry about picking things up from animals. As farmers, we have to be careful that our animals don’t pick something up that people may bring to us,” Goblet said.
Mark St. Jacques, general manager of the Washington County Fair, said he will speak with his board of directors this week about whether to allow pigs at this year’s fair. Typically there are 10 to 12 hogs on display.
“Normally, we’ll follow what Ag and Markets recommends,” he said.
Mary Haynes, fair manager for the Schagticoke Fair, also planned to discuss the risk posed by PED at an upcoming board meeting.
Neither the Saratoga County Fair nor the Altamont Fair has a swine exhibit.
Racing pigs, which are all brought in by a single owner, will still perform at the Altamont Fair, noted Marie McMillen, the fair’s manager.