Swine veterinarians resolve to eliminate the PRRS virus

Published on April 15, 2006
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The American Association of Swine Veterinarians is taking several steps to confront two deadly diseases affecting hog farms.

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome is an extremely costly disease, capable of reducing productivity in breeding sows and growing pigs. At its fall meeting in 2005, the AASV board adopted a position statement supporting the goal of eliminating the PRRS virus from North America.

"The AASV came together last year and decided we have got to do everything we can to eliminate this pathogen from the North American pig population," said Dr. Scott Dee, 2006 president of the association and a professor at the University of Minnesota's Swine Disease Eradication Center, after the annual meeting in March.

The board then formed the PRRS Eradication Task Force at the association's spring meeting. At the same meeting, the board accepted an offer of access to a PRRS risk-assessment tool from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc.

While promoting PRRS research, the AASV is also turning its attention to porcine circovirus type 2—which often is seen as postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome. At the 2006 meeting, the board formed an Ad Hoc Committee on PCV2-Associated Disease to develop a plan of action. Currently, PCV2-associated disease is primarily a concern in Canada and Europe.

PRRS virus 

The PRRS virus is prevalent throughout North America, and the AASV is positioning itself for a leadership role in eradicating the disease by adoption of the following statement: 

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is a significant production-limiting disease of swine that is estimated to cost the US industry approximately 560 million dollars per year. Control of the disease via traditional methods has not been effective in all cases; therefore, it is the position of the AASV that eradication of the disease from the North American swine industry is the long term goal. The AASV will take a leadership role by partnering with the swine industry to promote collaborative PRRS eradication efforts at the local, regional, and national levels, communicating the need and identifying sources of funding to support such initiatives, and assisting in the transfer of new PRRS-related information and technology across its membership, in order to achieve this goal.

The PRRS Eradication Task Force will cover all of North America. Dr. Dee said members of the task force—representing regional interests, science, industry, practitioners, and producers—will work together to enhance collaboration and communication on PRRS eradication. The AASV board charged its PRRS Committee, under chairman Dr. Monte McCaw of North Carolina State University, with putting together the eradication team.

Dr. Dee said that eradication is a long-term goal requiring a careful, well-thought-out plan—and solid support from swine producers.

"We cannot do this alone," he said. "We need producers to champion the effort, or it will not be successful."

Dr. Tom Burkgren, AASV executive director, said the PRRS risk-assessment tool from Boehringer Ingelheim will help producers and members expand a database of information about the disease.

Producers who are customers of Boehringer Ingelheim already have access to the company's PRRS risk-assessment tool and database. Now the AASV plans to offer the tool for free to members to implement with other clients. The National Pork Board will also provide funding to help support the project.

Dr. Burkgren said about 200 hog farms are in the database, but researchers want to reach a critical mass of about 300 farms before analyzing the information.

"The database is really going to serve as a resource for researchers to mine the data," he said.

Dr. Burkgren said the AASV will be appointing an oversight committee for the PRRS risk-assessment tool. The association might also expand the tool, which applies mainly to sow herds, by adding modules for grow-finish pigs and boar studs.

The AASV will continue to support the country's core PRRS research initiative, the PRRS Coordinated Agricultural Project through the Department of Agriculture and the National Pork Board. The USDA National Research Initiative has committed about $4.4 million to the project, and the National Pork Board has committed about $2 million in Pork Checkoff funding. Information about the research is at www.prrs.org.

During the AASV meeting, Boehringer Ingelheim also announced its fourth annual Advancement in PRRS Research Awards. For 2006, the company gave $25,000 grants to each of three PRRS researchers—Drs. Dee, Claudia Munoz-Zanzi of the University of Minnesota, and Jeff Zimmerman of Iowa State University.

Dr. Dee said a key topic for all PRRS researchers will be studying how the virus enters farms, because eradication efforts aren't always long-lasting. The University of Minnesota and Iowa State University will be collaborating on such a project during the next couple of years.

Other important areas of research include refining the understanding of the immune response to the PRRS virus, developing and improving vaccines and diagnostics, and learning more about genetic resistance.

"We just don't have all the pieces of the puzzle yet," Dr. Dee said. "But the good news is that the research is well-positioned to answer the questions."  


At the AASV meeting, the topic of PRRS permeated the programming—including sessions on regional eradication and boar studs. However, PCV2/PMWS was the topic for many speakers and a pre-conference seminar.

Dr. Harry Snelson, AASV director of communications, said members want to learn more about the prevalence, severity, and distribution of PCV2/PMWS cases in Canada and the rest of North America. Part of the discussion is about the connection between PCV2 and PMWS and about properly naming the disease condition.

The pre-conference seminar "PCV2/PMWS: Understanding factors that impact disease expression and control" featured speakers who presented information on clinical pathology, diagnostic tools, risk factors, economic losses, and practical management.

The AASV board is still in the process of creating the charge for the Ad Hoc Committee on PCV2-Associated Disease, though members held a listening session at the end of the annual meeting to discuss how to proceed. The committee's overall role will be to decide on a direction for the association to adopt with regard to PCV2/PMWS.

By mid-March, the National Pork Board also had provided $300,000 for six research projects on the disease.