Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus -- or PED -- is fairly common in Europe and China, but until April of this year had not been detected in the U.S.
The virus now has spread to 15 American states. Beth Ferry, an educator with Michigan State University Extension, says "a few" cases of PED have been confirmed in Michigan. She says the virus can quickly kill piglets.
"What they do is dehydrate really fast, and a lot of times you're going to see extreme mortality because you can't just bring them out of that," Ferry says. "So when we see it on those suckling pigs, it's a really big concern."
The virus spreads from pig to pig, but can also be transmitted on the hands or clothing of humans or by birds and mice.
Once a herd is exposed to the virus, a pork producer can use a process called "feedback" to begin building immunity for that specific herd. The treatment includes using capturing the virus from the feces of infected pigs and feeding it back to pregnant sows.
Ferry says PED is not a reportable disease, which means pork producers aren't required to inform the state if the virus infects their stock.
She says the virus is not harmful to humans and does not affect the safety of pork products.
"This is just a production disease. It does not affect the meat or meat quality. Pork continues to remain very safe," Ferry says.
"What it's going to do to pork numbers, we don't know yet. If we see a decrease in numbers that are produced and sent to market, we could see an increase in pork costs for our consumers. But the fact is that pork products do remain safe."
Ferry says pork producers can prevent the spread of the virus by washing their hands and changing their clothes and using the right disinfectant before coming in contact with other pork herds.
She says people who visit hog bars at Michigan's county fairs should use good hygiene practices if they come in contact with the animals.