USDA officials are banking on a federal relief program to help win the fight against pseudorabies (PRV). It couldn't come too soon.

With hog prices in the doldrums for months, pork producers have taken to cutting costs where they can. One likely candidate has been vaccination for PRV.

Major State Outbreak Dropping vaccinations is believed to have contributed to a PRV outbreak in Minnesota, creating an emergency situation, according to Thomas Hagerty, state veterinarian.

"We think vaccine usage has dropped quite a bit as people try to find places to tighten their belts with pig prices down," he says. "We would like this area spread of the disease to stop, and I think it would if we had the vaccine out there."

Hagerty says the state legislature has proposed $1.5 million in funding to vaccinate 3.5 million pigs, perform blood testing and lab work for PRV. But he admits it may take a long time for the money to be approved, if at all. In the meantime, he is urging producers to reinstate vaccination programs "just to protect themselves," he says.

"The reason for vaccine money is you need to put up a fire wall someplace in order to get an outbreak like this stopped. That fire wall normally is vaccine so you don't have a naive population around," explains Hagerty.

Around Christmas time, Hagerty says state officials started to notice an increase in PRV activity. On Jan. 1, there were 144 quarantined herds. When it hit 234 in mid-February, it was the largest number of cases in three years (see Figure 1).

There are PRV breaks going on in three distinct areas of southern and west central Minnesota, with an unusual number of finishing barns affected. It is a "very hot virus outbreak" that is also causing sow deaths and abortions, and is killing dogs, says Hagerty.

Federal Buyout Welcomed Some of the herds that have recently broken with PRV have signed up for the federal buyout program, says Paul Anderson, DVM, veterinarian in charge, Swine Diseases Division, Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

"When a couple of herds broke, and all their sows got infected, they knew the herd had to go," he points out. For many producers with two- and three-site production systems, the required depopulation is not such a hardship. Often, infection is centered in the breeding herd and has to be cleaned up. But if nursery and finishing production are on separate sites and remain uninfected, production flow can continue unabated, says Anderson.

Other reasons producers are enrolling in the PRV buyout program include a need for new genetics and herds having a PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) problem, he notes.

So far, 60,000 head in 19 herds are involved in the emergency buyout in Minnesota, says David Vogel, area veterinarian in charge.

In Iowa, all quarantined herd owners were contacted by telephone and also by certified letter. About 570 letters went out, says Lawrence Birchmier, DVM, in charge of the PRV program. He says close to 40% of those herds have expressed an interest. In the end, he expects close to 200 producers will express an interest in participating.

Once producers agree to have district veterinary officials visit their farm and project an indemnity payment, they have seven days to decide whether to go through with herd buyout. Producers are also given seven days notice of depopulation to get their farm in order and line up help for load-out day.

In addition to animal indemnity, animal transportation, equipment and carcass rendering, USDA will also pay for the hiring of extra help for load-out. The cost of cleaning and disinfecting is borne by the producer. Herds can be repopulated within 30 days.

Nebraska Status In Nebraska, eradication is imminent. There are only 12 quarantined herds owned by seven producers. Three herds have agreed to the buyout, says Jim Weiss, DVM, state epidemiologist. One producer has 150 sows, the second just 50 sows and the third one is a finisher with 1,500 head in inventory. One of the quarantines dates back to 1991, the other two to 1995.

Weiss says even though quarantined numbers are low, officials expected to be cleaned up by now. Two, 5,000-sow operations that chose not to join in the buyout wereinfected about a year ago. Adjusted target for completion of eradication is late summer or early fall, he says.

National Participation Overall, there are 1,060 quarantined, PRV-infected herds in the U.S. eligible for the buyout program, says Joe Annelli, DVM, in charge of Emergency Programs for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

That represents 895 producers, all of whom have been contacted at least once about participation. Sixty-one producers have enrolled in the buyout, explains Annelli.

The APHIS home page provides weekly updates of current market values being paid. The Web site is www.aphis.usda. gov. Producers are paid the larger of the two values between contact (time the producer calls USDA to set up a farm visit) and time of depopulation. The USDA goal is to provide indemnity checks within seven days.

There are three, declining payment levels in the accelerated PRV cleanup program (see "USDA Authorizes Pseudorabies Buyout," Feb. 15, 1999, page 12, National Hog Farmer). In mid-March, the third and final payment phase goes into effect. It will last until June 30 or until the last of the $80 million appropriated from USDA is used up, says Annelli.

If your herd is quarantined for PRV, it won't cost anything to contact USDA about an estimate for cleanup. The best thing you can do is sit down with your veterinarian and banker to decide whether to participate in this federal program, explains Paul Sundberg, DVM, assistant vice president, veterinary issues, National Pork Producers Council. Or call the APHIS hotline at (800) 601-9327. It is a voluntary decision.

But remember, should you decline, you still must meet all of the current rules of the national/state eradication programs, he says.