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Blue ear spreading in Vietnam

Blue ear disease cannot be transferred to humans (Nguyen Ngoc Toan)
Blue ear disease cannot be transferred to humans
Nguyen Ngoc Toan

With Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), or blue ear disease, spreading across Vietnam, large numbers of pig farmers are facing financial difficulty. Pork shortages due to the culling of pigs, or deaths from the disease, combined with restrictions in the movement of animals and public concern over the safety of pork products have seen the consumption of pork drop significantly in some large urban markets. "Pork shortages will subsequently lead to higher retail pork prices," explains Lucy Lapar from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), "even if live pig prices may be depressed in the short term - especially in areas that are infected by the disease."

In an attempt to contain the disease, the transportation, slaughter and sale of pigs in affected areas has been banned by the government. At the same time, farmers are to receive compensation of up to US$1.3 per kilogramme of pig they lose due to blue ear disease, or about 70 per cent of the market price. "An effective disease surveillance and quarantine system will need to be in place to control the spread and recurrence of PRRS or any other pig disease," states Lapar. "Public awareness about proper handling of infected pigs and facilities for handling these are also important factors to contain the risk of disease spreading."

Characterised by reproductive failure of sows and respiratory distress of young pigs, blue ear disease cannot be transferred to humans. But according to Nguyen Ngoc Toan, a research officer with ILRI, some media reports have wrongly labelled blue ear disease as a zoonotic disease due to a number of people becoming ill, or dying, after contracting Streptococcus suis, a bacterial infection which is common in pig-rearing countries. "The deaths reported in northern Vietnam may have contributed to the drop in pork consumption," Toan comments. However, S. suis which commonly results in meningitis but can cause other reactions, is mostly often contracted by those slaughtering infected pigs. Eating infected meat poses no risk and person-to-person spread does not seem to occur. However, higher incidence of S. suis seems to appear in pigs already affected by PRRS.

Date published: June 2010


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