It's no surprise that the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus  causes the pork industry significant losses each year. It's estimated that North American producers lose $560 million per year to this disease. But this figure is believed to be a very conservative number as it does not include secondary disease and performance costs from PRRS.
In the last five years, there have been many advances in PRRS research, but to date none has been the “silver bullet.”
However, with a multifaceted approach, individual farms have eliminated the PRRS virus using practical biosecurity methods such as showering in and out, or simply washing hands and changing boots and coveralls between finisher groups when showers are not available.
Breeding herd sites have been closed to replacement gilts for a minimum of seven months after a PRRS break in lieu of using the more complete but costly depopulation/repopulation of a site.
Birth of Regional Program
The next step in this process is to extend the scope of these individual farm success stories to the region as the number of PRRS-negative herds increase, and the risk to individual production sites within the area decreases.
The region selected for this PRRS elimination project is Hancock, Adams and McDonough counties (H.A.M.) in the west central part of Illinois. This area was selected because of the commitment from the larger production systems in the area. The majority of pigs finished originate from area breeding herds, meaning the region has a low rate of imported pigs of unknown PRRS status.
This program is closelytailored after other elimination/eradication disease efforts like pseudorabies, Classical Swine Fever and PRRS. We are using similar guidelines set forth by these programs; sites will be classified as PRRS-positive unstable, positive stable, negative and qualified negative. Once the PRRS virus has been eliminated, the area will be classified as PRRS-free.
The project is in the preliminary phase. It is a collaboration between individual pork producers and several other individuals from the large production systems: Professional Swine Management, LLC ; Tri-Oak Foods ; and Cargill, Inc .
Carthage Veterinary Service, Ltd.  is also working with the three production companies who are committed to PRRS control and elimination.
The PRRS status at many of the farms within these three production systems are known and monitored routinely. Individual farmers in the H.A.M counties are strongly encouraged to participate in this voluntary program. Our first outreach to H.A.M. county farmers and to show pig producers was at the local 4-H and county shows.
Many of the estimated 130 productions sites within the three counties have been identified. Using a global positioning system to determine the latitude and longitude of each site, the sites were placed on a site map. The PRRS status of each herd is identified by a color code and the type of swine production system by the shape of the pinpoint.
PRRS CAP II, a consortium of research interests that fund and receive funding for PRRS projects from the Agriculture Department, has provided a grant for the initial testing to determine site status. Samples may be obtained by the producer's veterinarian. As with pseudorabies, up to 30 head/site will be sampled for serological testing. When possible, oral fluid testing using the rope collection sampling method will also be used.
As mentioned in swine veterinarian Derald Holtkamp's article on PADRAP (production animal disease risk assessment program) on page 14, the PRRS risk assessment tool for producers to assess their biosecurity risks will be used.
Once the initial information has been gathered, the project will move into Phase II, working with veterinarians and producers to implement a biosecurity protocol and PRRS control status for farms with poor biosecurity and high PRRS risk.
The producers who agree to participate in the H.A.M. PRRS elimination project can track progress and receive updated information through a password-protected website.
The H.A.M. project is modeled after other county PRRS elimination projects in Stevens County in Minnesota and Allegan and Ottawa counties in Michigan.
The goal of these long-term projects is to identify pork production within a region and eliminate PRRS from those farms with a goal of national elimination of the virus.
Financial support for the H.A.M. project is also provided by the Illinois Pork Producers Association.