piglets
Shutterstock
Vulnerable little factory-reared piggies.

A stomach virus that kills most of the piglets it infects is tearing across America, reaching farms in at least 13 states just a month after it was first detected here.

The disease threatens to trim back the nation’s pork supplies at a time when the price of the meat is already rising following last year’s drought.

Scientists say a strain of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), which shares 99.4 percent of its genes with a strain that recently killed more than 1 million piglets in China, is harmless to humans and other animals. But you wouldn’t want to be a baby pig that contracted the disease.

From Reuters:

While the virus has not tended to kill older pigs, mortality among very young pigs infected in U.S. farms is commonly 50 percent, and can be as high [as] 100 percent, say veterinarians and scientists who are studying the outbreak. …

When and how PEDV arrived in the United States remains a mystery. The total number of pig deaths from the outbreak is not known, and the uncertainty is fueling fears among traders, meat processors and farmers about the potential impact on pork supplies later in the year.

The outbreak comes as U.S. hog and wholesale pork prices in the large hog-raising states of Iowa and Minnesota have surged to nearly two-year highs. Supermarkets are racing to fill meat cases for the summer grilling season even as supplies tighten, analysts said. Hog supplies were already tight after last summer’s historic drought drove up feed-grain costs, which prompted a higher-than-normal slaughter rate last summer.

The first U.S. case of PEDV was reported on May 17. But researchers at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and other diagnostic labs have since discovered that PEDV arrived as early as April 16, according to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

Farmers and county fair goers should be extra hygienic around swine, experts say. From PorkNetwork:

PED typically is spread through the feces of infected swine or contaminated trailers, equipment, boots, clothing and hands. The way it is spread makes it a particular concern now because a number of states will be holding fairs soon, according to [swine specialist David Newman of North Dakota State University].

He says everyone involved in pig handling, including hog operation employees and owners, and those transporting pigs, need to take steps to avoid spreading the virus.

Ew. Time to experiment with veganism?