The American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) assumes the leadership role in trying to wipe out this devastating pig virus.

AASV President Scott Dee of the University of Minnesota says the group's stance stems from last fall's position statement calling for eradication of the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus as a long-term goal.

Economics justify action, he says. A National Pork Board study projects PRRS costs the pork industry an estimated $560 million annually (in 2004 dollars). That's not new. Less well known is that 88% of the costs occur postweaning, he says.

Four Key Points

Dee also cites four key PRRS points:

  1. “This action is a long-term goal, led by pork producers and the AASV.”

    The voluntary effort might take 20 years to complete. The first five years will focus on answering research questions that he believes “will lead to elimination of this pathogen and keep it out of farms at a higher rate of success.”

  2. “This will definitely be an industry-driven and not a federal government, regulatory-driven approach,” he says.

    “We think if producers and practitioners work together, we can do this (eradication) as a team, without the regulations imposed on us,” says Dee, co-director of the university's Swine Disease Eradication Center.

    But the next five years will be critical as a time to build teams and confidence needed to accomplish the task ahead, he says.

  3. Continuation of small-scale regional eradication projects will provide a testament to producers' ability to work together, as is being done in Minnesota and North Carolina.

    “Producers need to work together in designated areas, communicating and sharing information and talking about cleaning up areas rather than individual farms,” says Dee.

  4. A model for successful team-building started in Ontario, Canada. Dee visited producer and veterinary groups there while serving as president-elect of the AASV. He returned to set up similar models in Minnesota, which is now the first state to have developed an industry-wide PRRS eradication task force.

PRRS Eradication Task Force

From that start, came consensus for broader formation of the North American PRRS Eradication Task Force, approved by the AASV PRRS Committee at its recent annual meeting in March in Kansas City, MO.

AASV PRRS Committee chair Monte McCaw, DVM, North Carolina State University, led the group's first official meeting at World Pork Expo in early June in Des Moines, IA, in mapping out goals and a plan of action. The task force will act as an oversight group for maintaining and enhancing communications between the United States, Canada and Mexico, says Dee.

Also during the meeting, updates were presented on eradication efforts in Minnesota, North Carolina and Ontario.

Bob Rowland of the University of Minnesota discussed the role of university research in PRRS elimination.

In that regard, Dee and Jeff Zimmerman, DVM, of Iowa State University began a year-long collaborative research project on June 1 at the University of Minnesota's research farm in the west central part of the state.

“The objective really is to see if we can raise negative pigs in an endemically infected region,” says Dee. The farm will have PRRS-infected populations of pigs in facilities, with negative groups of pigs only about 300 ft. away. Research will measure the effectiveness and impact of different levels of biosecurity on the PRRS-negative pigs.

“We are going to see if we really know how the virus is spread, and if we can keep it out with these different facilities practicing different levels of biosecurity,” he notes.

“We should obtain results that will help us to better define aerosol spread and area spread and also transmission specifically by insects, fomites, personnel — all the routes we feel are important, while identifying the routes that are the most high-risk.”

The study is not only unusual in its length (one year), but also in that it involves 2,000 pigs, a large number for a research study, suggests Dee. He is taking a six-month leave to focus exclusively on this research endeavor.

“We hope to develop concrete answers on how the virus spreads and how to keep it out,” he says.

Another means for deriving those answers is a PRRS risk assessment tool provided to AASV members by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. The computer-driven tool will be used in research projects this summer to evaluate risk factors in spread between farms, and could prove to be a valuable key in assessing farm biosecurity and management in deterring exposure to the PRRS virus.