Covid-19 and Pigs: What You Need to Know
By Dr. Kelsey Gray DVM, Prairie Swine Health Services
During the era of Covid-19, these unprecedented times bring high anxiety as we do not have all the answers. One minute, we’re told not to wear masks, and the next, well…you better get yourself a mask.
The pig industry is certainly not free from the anxiety of this evolving situation. Initial reactions by our pork producers regarding Covid-19 started with the concern “can pigs get Covid-19?” and “What am I going to do if our workers get sick? Who will care for our pigs?” and unfortunately in some areas, the heart wrenching question is now being asked “How do I mass euthanize my pigs?”
Let’s get a few facts straight to understand where these questions arise from and what answers we have for them:
“Can pigs get Covid-19?”
- A group of scientists published a paper in April 2020 looking at the susceptibility of different domestic species to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19)1.
- They found that when pigs were given the virus, they could not find the virus in pigs, nor could pigs transmit the virus to other pigs1.
- The most current information suggests that pigs CANNOT get Covid-19 nor can they shed it.
“What am I going to do if our workers get sick? Who will care for our pigs?”
- Biosecurity is second nature in the pig industry, but it has been ramped up on the human side!
- Staff are practicing social distancing at work. This means divided lunch breaks, working as far apart from each other as possible, and wearing FULL personal protective equipment when performing tasks within 2 meters of one another.
- Managers are also making plans for relief staff in the event of a case break in the barn and are encouraging testing of any staff who are not feeling well.
“How can I mass euthanize my pigs?”
- As a veterinarian, there is no way to mentally prepare for this conversation.
- Fortunately, in Alberta, we are not there yet, but sadly some of our industry partners in the East and many pork producers in the USA are faced with this unthinkable question.
- Restaurant closures has certainly affected national consumption of certain products, but the major issue is the Covid-19 related closure of slaughter plants.
- Some plants are slaughtering hundreds of thousands of hogs per week. When these plants close, there simply isn’t enough room in a hog barn for this growing animal.
Although there are still many logistics to sort through before we get the industry back on track, one thing I know for sure, is that pig farmers are some of the most resilient people I have ever met, and they will get us through this. To all the farmers out there, thank you!
Dr. Kelsey Gray, Prairie Swine Health Services
Ref: 1. Susceptibility of Ferrets, Cats, Dogs, and Other Domesticated Animals to SARS-coronavirus 2., Shi, et al., Science:Science., April 2020.