A female feral swine in Wheeler County recently tested positive for a contagious disease known as pseudorabies that may harm livestock and lots of wildlife species.
The disease is frequent among feral swine across the country, however it is the very first recorded case in Oregon. The UNITED STATES Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services started surveying the state for the disease in 2007.
“This is a disease that co-exists with feral swine populations in the UNITED STATES,” said Ryan Scholz, an Oregon Department of Agriculture district veterinarian. “Oregon was somewhat of an anomaly that we had not had the disease.”
Officials suspect the disease is isolated to the alone swine, however they are investigating to find out if this has spread.
Pseudorabies does not affect humans, but can be fatal to farm animals and wildlife. It mainly infects pigs and results in neurologic, respiratory and reproductive disorders. It is a virus in the herpes family that resembles rabies and spreads through reproduction or nose-to-nose contact that why it is considered as highly contagious disease.
“These kinds of things can occur, and additionally they can carry diseases which are concerning,” Scholz said. “There is more work to be done.”
The risk of the disease is a reminder of why officials are attempting to get rid of the feral swine population in Oregon.
About ten years ago, the population in Oregon grew to significantly more than 3,000. They were spotted in Central Oregon from Madras to Shaniko and open terrain across the California border.
The pigs are believed one of the most dangerous invasive species in the state since they cause harm to agricultural crops and fish as well as wildlife habitat. They can also carry as much as 40 diseases.
Through aerial hunting from helicopters and corral trapping, the population happens to be reduced to significantly less than 200.
The rest of the few are typically roaming within vast wilderness of Wheeler County, an agricultural county of less than 2,000 residents.
Every swine that is killed is tested for diseases.
Rick Boatner, invasive species wildlife integrity coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state program to get rid of the feral swine has succeeded in Central Oregon, where the population from Madras to Shaniko happens to be nearly eliminated.
“There could be a couple of still around, but we haven’t had any reports in quite a few years,” Boatner said.
In 2009, the Oregon Legislature passed a law requiring landowners to notify the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife within 10 days if they see feral swine on the land.
Feral swine spread through Oregon from people bringing in exotic European and Russian boars for private hunts. Lots of the boars escaped and mated with domestic pigs, Boatner said.
Feral swine can begin breeding as early as 6 months old, and produce at least two litters each year with up to 12 in a litter. They grow up to nearly 300 pounds.
As omnivores, they eat almost anything within their paths, from small birds to roots in farmlands.
Michelle Dennehy, an ODFW spokeswoman, said the agency does not expect Oregon’s wildlife to be suffering from the pseudorabies found in the feral swine.
Several species are at risk of the disease, including raccoons, bears, deer, red fox, coyote, skunk, badgers, opossums, cottontails and muskrats. But there has never been an outbreak of the disease in Oregon wildlife, Dennehy said.
Wildlife officials hope that does not change.
“We don’t want feral pigs in Oregon, and this is among the reasons why,” Dennehy said. “There is definitely a risk for disease as shown here.”
For Scholz, he does not believe the first case of pseudorabies in Oregon is cause for panic.
Instead, it really is a motivation for farmers to safeguard their hogs and keep them away from feral swine as they are the source of this contagious disease. The commercial hog industry in the United States happens to be free from the disease since 2004.
“We want to remind everyone the disease out there and we do have to take those extra steps,” Scholz said.