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Breakthrough: U of M develops PEDV test

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Researchers at the University of Minnesota made a breakthrough late last month in the fight against porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

The university's College of Veterinary Medicine developed a swine herd surveillance test, which will be able to test pigs' immunity to PEDV. It is the first announced PEDV swine herd surveillance test in the United States.

The test will be especially critical for tracking whether sow immunity gets passed on to piglets, who are the most vulnerable to the disease, and whether any vaccinations or other immunity-inducing methods that come along are effective. It also can identify pigs that have been exposed to PEDV even if they have not shown any symptoms.

Michael Murtaugh runs the university's Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences' Murtaugh Lab, which developed the PEDV surveillance test.

"Pigs can get diarrhea diseases for many reasons, so [the surveillance test] diagnoses the causative agent responsible," Murtaugh said. "Pigs that test positive should be immune to reinfection."

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Having the test available to producers is a positive step forward in understanding how the disease operates, said Lisa Becton, a veterinarian and Director of Swine Health Information and Research for the National Pork Board.

"This is a great tool to have in our toolbox," Becton said. "We're learning day to day how to better manage and contain (PEDV)."

The surveillance test joins a diagnostic test released during summer 2013 and brings PEDV testing abilities up to swine industry disease monitoring standards.

The test is available immediately through the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for less than $15 per serum sample submitted.Producers interested in testing their pigs for PEDV antibodies should consult the VDL website at vdl.umn.edu. Test results should be available 24 to 48 hours after the lab receives samples.

Since the test is so new, best practices still are in the early stages. While the test is applicable for pigs of all ages, Murtaugh believes it is ideal for breeding or recently bred gilts, farrowing sows and one- to three-week-old piglets to determine if they've acquired immunity from their mother.

"I'm not a veterinarian, but I expect there would be interest in using the test to determine the immune status of sows each time they go through the reproductive cycle," Murtaugh said.

The next step will be finding protective antigens in PEDV so a vaccine can be developed.

"Prevent infection," Murtaugh said. "That's the goal of my lab."

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While the surveillance test isn't a cure, everything researchers are learning about PEDV will help stakeholders be better prepared to prevent a similar event from happening in the future, Becton said.

So far, about 300 hog barns have been stricken with PEDV in Minnesota. The virus has been confirmed in 23 states and Canada and has been spreading more quickly in the cold weather.

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