- Associated Press - Sunday, July 27, 2014

ARCADIA, Ind. (AP) - When he got the phone call last January, Randy Salsbery already knew a new swine disease had spread to the United States from Asia and Europe.

“Dad, I think we’ve got it,” his son told him.

Concern gnawed at him. He headed to the family’s hog barn, but nothing could prepare him for the heartache he and his family were about to endure.

Like other farmers, Salsbery worked tirelessly to save as many newborn piglets as he could. But they quickly started dying - very quickly. In four short weeks, he saved quite a few older piglets, but the losses piled up. Virtually every piglet younger than nine days old was dead. Roughly 2,000 piglets. Gone.

“It’s a pretty sick feeling for the people that go in the barns,” Salsbery told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1muP1q2 ). “They worked so hard to get those pigs. Then to see them all dying is pretty depressing.”

In roughly one year, a disease with an unpleasant name and disgusting symptoms has bolted through the U.S. pork industry with devastating effects. It spreads fast and kills the tiniest of piglets. So far, 7 million.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see all these baby pigs gone if you don’t know it’s coming and all of the sudden they start passing away,” said Kenneth Eck, Purdue Extension-DuBois County educator for agriculture and natural resources.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) is not a food hazard and it can’t infect people. But hog farmers and consumers have felt its impact. Pork costs are hitting record highs. One Indiana county fair canceled its swine show. Indiana State Fair officials say they will be testing all pigs for symptoms when the fair starts Aug. 1.

In Indiana, the fifth-largest pork producing state, farmers are taking precautions to prevent the disease from crippling their farms.

“When a farm gets hit with disease like this,” Salsbery said, “it affects our livelihood.”

PEDv was first confirmed in the United States in May 2013. Since then, it’s spread to 30 states with more than 7,700 positive samples.

In Indiana, one of the first states the virus hit, it’s struck roughly 45 counties. Since last spring, it’s been a race to find solutions.

“Unfortunately, we’re having to learn by doing, since we’ve never had it here before,” said state veterinarian Bret Marsh.

Infected pigs suffer from diarrhea and vomiting, which leads to dehydration. Once pigs are a few months old, they’re more likely to survive the disease.

Piglets’ intestinal tracts don’t absorb water as easily when they’re young, leaving them more vulnerable to dehydration. They also get their nutrients from milk, which is harder to digest when sick. Any water in that milk is also difficult to absorb, leading to further problems, Eck said.

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