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Infected Alberta pig farm using makeshift immunization program to fight deadly virus

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Feeding sows the feces of infected piglets — a makeshift form of immunization — is one of the few ways producers can slow the spread of a deadly pork virus detected in Alberta for the first time this week.

There is no vaccine to inoculate against the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, a disease that has killed millions of piglets around the world.  

“There is no commercial vaccine that is effective,” said Frank Marshall, a Camrose-based veterinarian specializing in swine health and a sessional instructor in veterinary medicine at the University of Calgary.  

“Sadly, our only method to gain that immunity is to expose the animals to the baby pig feces.”

The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, known as PED, has been found at a 400-head hog operation in the province — the first-ever reported case of PED in Alberta.

PED infects the cells lining the small intestine of a pig. It is generally considered fatal, especially among younger animals which haven’t developed the reserves to fight off the disease and absorb nutrients. 

For newborn piglets, that is, those less than a week old, mortality rates are up to 100 per cent.

Symptoms in sows include loose feces or not eating, while piglets will be dehydrated and have watery diarrhea. 

‘It’s the only way’ 

Operators grappling with an active outbreak must attempt to build herd immunity by exposing pigs to the active virus found in feces, Marshall said. 

“The PED disease cranks out so much virus in piglet feces, we actually use a little Swiffer pad, wipe the crate and then that can be put into water in the feeding trough for the sows.”

Four to five weeks after exposure to the virus, sows will express milk that can protect her piglets from future infection.

“What we’re aiming at is to provide the piglet with lactogenic immunity, which means that every drop of milk has antibodies in it,” Marshall said.

“When consumed by the piglet it will block the risk of this virus from attacking the gut. It’s the only way to build herd immunity.”

“The key is this one farm. We have one opportunity to contain this.-Frank Marshall

While the virus is not transmittable to humans and there are no food safety risks associated with infected animals, the outbreak could be devastating for Alberta’s pork industry, Marshall said.

“There is not a lot a person can do when they’re battling against this,” Marshall said.

“The key is this one farm. We have one opportunity to contain this.”

‘Something no one wants’

Without a commercial vaccine, biosecurity measures are the best way to contain the virus which spreads through oral-fecal contamination, Marshall said.

Processing plants, sow yards and washing stations are considered high risk for cross-contamination.

“This is where they can cross-traffic, pick it up, spread into their vehicle and take it home,” Marshall said. “And eventually, if they don’t have decent biosecurity, they can walk onto their farms.”

A virus that has killed millions of pigs in North America is now in Alberta. We’ll ask a veterinarian why pork producers are so worried about this devastating disease. 7:25

In a statement, the Alberta Pork Producers Development Corp. said it is working closely with the province to investigate the outbreak and urged pork producers to increase biosecurity at their farms.

The first case of PED in Canada was confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in January 2014 on a swine farm in Ontario. While there have been several small PED outbreaks in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and P.E.I., the fast-spreading virus had not hit western Canadian herds until now.

It’s unclear how the virus spread to Alberta. Marshall said the infected farm has been self-quarantined.

“We’ve been negative up to this moment,” he said. “The whole industry has been ramping up their biosecurity to prevent an event such as this.”

“This is something no one wants.”

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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