Some of the diseases referred to here, including Nipah, have been known to infect those who take part in the Raaj, the largest annual religious pilgrimages in the world, where animals are sometimes sacrificed.
While “zoonotics” have not been as common here as elsewhere, the same cannot be said for diseases deadly to hogs - outbreaks which have proven - for much of North America - to be nothing short of rampant.
In 2004, Canadian hog producers, found themselves in the middle of a “major animal-health crisis, worldwide.” A new variant of a disease called “Porcine CircoVirus-2 Associated Disease” (PCVAD), had infected Ontario’s swine herds with a vengeance. It seemed to closely resemble a strain that had first been identified in Saskatchewan 20 years earlier. And, not long before the Ontario outbreak, a similar kind disrupted pork production in parts of Asia and Europe, too.
Lesions “of unprecedented severity” were inflaming the intestines, blood vessels, kidneys and spleen of Ontario herds. In some, fully half the pigs died. PCVAD had become “the dominant strain” infecting barns in both Ontario and Quebec. One study in the journal, “Veterinary Pathology” states, “In the space of less than two decades, this virus has gone from being a provincial oddity to one of the most economically important infectious agents in modern swine production.”
As the outbreak swept on to western Canada, animals were developing rasping coughs, diarrhea, pneumonia, fluid on the lungs, then dying. Within a few years, almost all of Canada’s pig farms had tested positive. As Ottawa put it at the time, “It severely affected the health and livelihood of the Canadian swine industry. Hundreds of producers faced financial ruin and pork processors laid off hundreds of staff. By 2009, the economic impact on the industry in North America had been estimated at more than $500m.”
When it ended, PCVAD had claimed about 9% of this country’s swine herds. Based on a hog population of about 15 million at the time, we must have lost some 1.35 million animals. By 2007, the federal government had stepped in. At the request of producers, Ottawa gave them more than $62 million to help with the costs of an inoculation program. The government proclaimed, “The hog industry is (now) better prepared to face disease threats.”
But, is it?
Last spring, another disease deadly to pigs moved into Manitoba, disrupting the industry to a degree perhaps not seen since the crisis 13 years earlier. Ominously dubbed “Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea” (PED), it infected hogs in scores of barns in southeastern Manitoba. Despite frantic efforts by barn owners and workers to control the infection, it had, by summer, found its way onto 90 farms. At this writing, 42 of those are now described as “PED-free,” once again. But these gains have come at a price. Industry sources confirm, during the struggle to contain the disease, it had become so rampant, and stress levels so high among workers trying to contain it, they were developing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. That’s what our veterans get in combat! There have been no new cases since October. So, is the worst behind us? Or is the epidemic just “in remission?”
A recent study by the University of Manitoba suggests, eradicating the disease won’t be easy. The virus can become airborne and spread on the wind for up to 18 kilometres. It can also withstand cold weather, be spread by livestock trucks, and survive for up to nine months in the earthen storage lagoons which producers use to store the waste. That waste, called slurry, is often spread on farm fields as a fertilizer. (An American expert even says, a single tablespoon may be potent enough to infect tens of millions of animals.)
No hard numbers are publicly available on just how many pigs the outbreak has claimed. But an official said, at one point during the summer, almost a million were under surveillance.
The swelling around the kidneys and the muscle hemorrhages
shown here are typical of pigs with African swine fever.
Photo by Karen Apicelli USDA.
ASF was first reported in domestic pigs in eastern Africa in 1921. It is harmless to humans. But it kills up to 90% of pigs. They start to bleed inside. Blood sometimes gushes from their ears and flanks. Their lungs fill with fluids. They lose their appetite and energy, abort their young and die, suddenly, within ten days. The virus spreads through the secretions of sick animals. It can survive for long periods on workers’ clothes or hay, helping it move from farm to farm. It can travel even farther when contaminated pork is transported. Pigs or wild boar become infected if they eat the scraps.
As the CDC cautions, "The more animals are kept in close quarters, the more likely it is that infection or bacteria can spread among them. Concentrated animal feeding operations or large industrial animal farms can cause a myriad of environmental and public health problems?"
|Unlike "ILOs," animals on this family farm in Manitoba get to bask in the sun,|
breathe fresh air and roam in spacious pastures. A PinP photo.