A strain of a highly virulent disease that has wiped out more than a tenth of the pig population in the US over the past two years has spread to Europe.

Asian-American Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus (PEDv) is extremely infectious, with experts saying a thimbleful of manure from an infected pig unit is sufficient to infect the entire British pig population.

The National Pig Association says it is impossible to guarantee Asian-American PEDv will not arrive in Britain on a traveller’s shoes or clothes, or on the wheels of a lorry and it is urging everyone to be on their guard.

It says producers should pay special attention to vehicle biosecurity. In particular, no pig lorry should be allowed on to any pig farm unless it has previously been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

The strain of PEDv was discovered in mid-Ukraine by internationally known British vet John Carr, who had it sequenced in Britain to confirm his suspicion it was the virulent Asian-American strain, and not the European strain.

Dr Carr said at a well-run commercial 5,000-sow unit in Ukraine 30,000 piglets died over a matter of weeks, equivalent to the loss of six weaned pigs per sow per year. On some infected farms in America piglet mortality rates were 100 per cent.

His worry now is the disease could easily spread. Ukraine borders European Union countries Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. He stressed it was essential that no live pigs were imported into the United Kingdom from countries with PEDv.

The Canadian pig industry has demonstrated it is possible to control the spread if the disease is identified quickly and no movements on or off an infected unit are allowed.

Working on the Canadian model of early identification and total industry cooperation, the English Pig Health and Welfare Council has been formulating a contingency plan since April and this is due to be rolled out soon.

Meanwhile the statutory pig levy paid by English pig keepers is funding free testing of diarrhoea samples at government animal health laboratories, to help ensure the disease is picked up promptly if it arrives on a British pig farm.

The European Food Safety Authority has confirmed the disease has no zoonotic capacity and is harmless to humans.

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