Unknown virus may give piglets polio-like symptoms

(Credit: Getty Images)

A new virus found in the central nervous tissues of young pigs could be causing polio-like weakness in their hind legs.

Paulo Arruda, an assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, led a team of diagnosticians from Iowa State, the University of Minnesota, and Kansas State University in an effort to investigate samples from 11-week-old pigs that couldn’t walk due to a mysterious weakness in their hind legs.

tissue affected by the pig virus
This image shows a section of brain and spinal cord with a severe inflammatory process. The tissues tested positive for the presence of the novel sapelovirus. (Credit: Paulo Arruda)

The diagnostic team found microscopic lesions in the pigs’ central nervous tissues containing a novel sapelovirus that researchers hadn’t previously encountered. Sapeloviruses belong to a family of viruses commonly found in pigs, but this particular strain was different from all other sapeloviruses previously described, Arruda says.

“We’re collecting evidence, sort of like in a forensic investigation,” he says. “But we still have a lot of questions that need to be answered about this virus.”

“We still have a lot of questions that need to be answered about this virus.”

For instance, despite the evidence collected, the team isn’t completely sure the virus is responsible for all the lesions in the spinal tissues or if there’s another unknown factor contributing to the neurological symptoms.

The pigs originated on a farm near the East Coast, though Arruda says privacy concerns prevented him from identifying the specific operation.

He says a lack of scientific evidence regarding the virus means it’s impossible to know just how widely it may spread. But the epidemiology of other viruses within its family leads Arruda to believe this particular strain may be fairly common on US hog farms. However, only a small percentage of pigs with the virus likely will display symptoms, he adds.

The economic impact posed by the virus remains unclear, he says. Farms dealing with the disease may lose 1 or 2 percent of pigs, making it a concern for individual producers.

Arruda says there’s no evidence the virus makes pork unsafe to eat.

Source: Iowa State University