April 10, 2020


A Coronavirus Spread Through U.S. Pigs in 2013. Here's How It Was Stopped: The containment practices of outbreaks past could have lessons for modern epidemics (Katherine J. Wu, 4/10/20, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

In the spring of 2013, a deadly coronavirus began to spread across the United States. Within a year it had reached 32 states, sweeping through dense populations that lacked immunity to the new pathogen. Though researchers scrambled to curb the disease, by the following spring, the epidemic claimed some 8 million lives--all of them pigs.

The pathogen responsible, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv), poses no danger to humans. But among its hosts, pigs, the virus ravages their bodies with severe gastrointestinal disease. The 2013 outbreak killed an estimated 10 percent of the nation's pigs in a matter of months. Struggling to make ends meet with limited supplies, pork producers pushed their prices to record highs as farmers nursed the dying and sick--most of which were newborn piglets--by the thousands.

"It was extremely devastating," says Don Davidson, a veterinarian with the Ohio-based food company Cooper Farms. "The losses were huge. Months later ... you could just see there weren't as many pigs in market."

By summer of 2014, the diarrheal disease had mostly petered out, partly because of a combination of increased diagnostic efforts and the growing immunity of the nation's pig population. But perhaps the biggest factor in ending the epidemic was behavioral: a near-universal ramp-up in farms' attention to cleaning, disinfection and isolation, says Michaela Trudeau, an animal coronavirus researcher at the University of Minnesota. These enhanced biosecurity measures "are one set of things we turn to over and over again to keep our pigs safe," she says.

As the world battles another dangerous coronavirus, the human pathogen SARS-CoV-2, similar lessons could prove valuable once again. People aren't pigs, and SARS-CoV-2--a respiratory virus--does not cause the same illness as PEDv. But this new coronavirus is vulnerable to many of the tactics that brought its predecessors to heel. In both cases, "it comes down to cooperation," Trudeau says. "The more people [working to] contain it, the better off we'll be."

Posted by at April 10, 2020 3:26 PM