PIERRE, S.D. - A swine virus has prompted the cancellation of at least one 4H competition and forced other precautions at state and county fairs in North Dakota and South Dakota in an effort to limit its spread.
The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, or PED, virus spreads through pig manure. It's not harmful to humans but is often deadly to piglets.
South Dakota state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said 20 farms in the state have infected swine and 16 additional tests have shown the presence of the virus at other farms on trucks or unloading docks.
The Animal Industry Board already has policies in place to protect animal health at state and county fairs that encourage young exhibitors to clean and sanitize trailers and pens, monitor for signs of illness and separate animals if they return home, he said.
"They want to be sure that they're not infecting animals at home or spreading the virus," Oedekoven said.
Megan Nielson, the 4H youth livestock field specialist in South Dakota, said exhibiting a pig at a fair is like sending a kid to kindergarten because it can bring all kinds of infections back home.
"The more times you bring an animal (out), the more it increases the risk of the spread of a disease," she said.
Concern about the virus led to the cancellation of the South Dakota State Fair's 4H "Rate of Gain Contest" because it requires an early weigh-in and increases the risk for animal comingling. Exhibitors also can participate in the state fair without going first to a county fair, which will reduce the amount of interaction between pigs.
In North Dakota, where PED was confirmed in a swine herd in the eastern part of the state in late February, state animal health officials have expanded rules for all pigs moving within the state, including those shown at county fairs and the state fair.
"People, without moving a pig at all, can be moving PED between fairs in different states," said state veterinarian Susan Keller.
Any pigs brought into the state for exhibition must have a permanent identification, such as a tattoo, and also a second approved tag, such as a U.S. Department of Agriculture metal tag. Pigs moved within North Dakota also must be tagged, though the requirements are less strict, she said.
The North Dakota Pork Council earlier lobbied for a suspension of the show pig season in North Dakota, according to president Kevin Tyndall, though he said the producer group supports all of the measures the animal health board has taken.
Keller said the board decided against a suspension of the season for several reasons, including the time and money invested by those involved in the shows and the fact that individual shows are free to cancel on their own.
In eastern South Dakota, the Codington County Commission has just banned swine from all county complexes until further notice because of the virus.
Glenn Muller, executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, thinks the fairs should go on, though exhibitors should be aware of the risks.
"We want to minimize the comingling of pigs but allow the kids, the exhibitors, to show if they choose to take that risk," he said.