Major hog operations, small farms and even pork prices could be affected by a virus that has no treatment or cure and is generally fatal to young pigs.
Officials said it's unclear how the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, or PED, entered the U.S. Previously, it was thought to exist only in Europe and China. Colorado and 12 other states began reporting the virus in April, and officials confirmed its presence in May.
PED is particularly deadly to young piglets, causing severe diarrhea and vomiting, and dehydrating them when they're unable to retain fluids. According to one report, the virus has killed between 250,000 to 300,000 piglets in Oklahoma alone.
Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota are the other states where the virus is present.
Dr. Nick Striegel, an assistant state veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said officials are trying to contain the spread of the virus and determine how it arrived in the U.S.
"It possibly could have come in through some feed," he said. "Maybe that's why it popped up in a number of different states at the same time. It also could have arrived via transport vehicles. Or, maybe the virus was present in the country prior to May, and it just hadn't been diagnosed because (it) looks very similar to other diseases that swine producers deal with all the time."
It's unclear how many Colorado pigs have died from the virus. The National Pork Producers Council ranks Colorado 22nd nationally in pork production, with major operations located on the east side of the state. Those operations could be affected financially if the large number of piglet deaths continues.
Striegel said the virus has little to no effect on older hogs or their meat, and can't be transmitted to humans. Because the virus is new to the U.S., it wasn't required to be regulated or reported.
At this week's Pueblo County Fair, owners of show animals so far aren't aware of the virus and aren't talking about it, said Michael Fisher, a Colorado Springs University extension agent.
"(But) it's something we need to worry about to be concerned about," he said. "We'll indicate (to pig owners) that they should disinfect their trailers, shovels, buckets that they've had here to feed with."
Fisher said sows usually have several litters annually, so any increase in pork prices related to the virus likely won't happen for another six to eight months.
The American Association of Swine Veterinarians is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the NPPC to resolve the situation.
Contact your veterinarian of you believe your piglet has symptoms of the virus.