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Success story: Pig wasting disease and a new pig circovirus: The EU contribution to the diagnosis and control of an important global disease epizootic

In 1997 the first reports of a “mystery wasting disease” in pigs in Canada and France started to appear in conference proceedings and the farming press and eventually in peer-reviewed journals. Following these preliminary reports the disease, named postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS), quickly spread around the world as a global epizootic causing severe economic losses to pig producers and restricting the movement of pigs and pig products. EU researchers working within projects funded under Framework Programmes 5 and 6 (FP5 and FP6), in collaboration with industry and colleagues from North America, have been at the forefront of studies on PMWS and porcine circoviruses that have defined the disease and helped developed commercial diagnostics and vaccines.

FP5: Two projects in Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources Programme

In 1999 the EC funded 2 projects on PMWS and porcine circovirus (QLK2-CT-1999-00445 Novel circovirus infection of pigs: a target for vaccination and QLK2-CT-1999-00307 Pathogenesis, epidemiology, immunopathology and diagnosis of PMWS).

The projects fell within the FP5 Key Action 2“Control of infectious diseases”. The provision of funding for these projects by the EC showed considerable foresight as the future importance of this devastating disease to pig producers in EU member states and elsewhere was proactively recognised. These two projects contained partners from industry and QLK2-CT-1999-00445 also involved partners from Canada and the USA.

The aims and objectives

Both projects within FP5 initially focussed on defining porcine circovirus diseases (PCVDs) and development of diagnostics. Diagnostics developed within QLK2-CT-1999-00445 were eventually commercialised. Other studies within these projects included the characterisation of viruses recovered from cases of PCVD and experimental reproduction of the disease. Candidate viruses for vaccine production were identified and characterised. The work carried out within these two projects and reported in the peer-reviewed literature and elsewhere was recognised by researchers and clinicians around the world as world-leading and ground breaking, providing essential information necessary to understand the pathology and future control of PCVDs.

FP6: One large project in Priority 5 Food quality and safety

Following the success of the two FP5 projects that produced world-leading research on PCVDs and PCV2, including more than 70 peer-reviewed publications, the two consortia merged into a single larger group of 16 partners, including Canada and the USA, and successfully applied for further EC funding under FP6. The project FOOD-CT-2004-513928 “Control of PCVD: Towards improved food quality and safety- PCVD" was initiated on 1 st of December 2004 and is due to be completed in the spring of 2009. This project established, for the first time anywhere in the world, a truly international, multidisciplinary consortium to focus on the control of the global epizootic of porcine circovirus disease, containing expertise in epidemiology, pig genetics, pig nutrition, pathology, molecular biology, immunology, vaccinology and virology.

The aims and objectives

The aims and objectives of the PCVD project are to generate information and control measures for porcine circovirus diseases that will have a positive impact on the health and welfare of pigs and the quality and safety of pork products. To achieve this, the project has nine integrated work packages exploring and developing reagent and diagnostic harmomisation, epidemiology, genetics, pathogenesis, nutrition, immunology, vaccination and information dissemination. To date, it is clear from the studies carried out within this project that the disease processes associated with porcine circovirus are far from simple and are, indeed, mulifactorial and can only be properly elucidated by experts in many disciplines working together.

The results to date

The PCVD project is progressing well. Epizootological surveys have been completed in a number of EU member states, diagnostics have been harmonised across the partners and candidate vaccines have been placed under field trials. To date, PCV2 vaccination appears to be a successful methodology to control most outbreaks of porcine circovirus disease. Molecular biology and immunological studies, closely linked and integrated into studies on pig nutrition and genetics are unravelling the mechanisms of disease reproduction following infection of pigs with PCV2. Official information dissemination links have been established through a website ( and with the European producers (COPA-COGECA), the National Pork Board in the USA, pig producers in Canada and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE).

A Specific Support Action (SSA) for New Member States (NMSs) and Associated and Candidate Countries (ACCs).

Following the initiation of the PCVD project, and the inexorable spread of PCVD across EU member states, a separate but linked, SSA for NMSs and ACCs ( FOOD-CT-2005-518432-NMSACC-PCVD ) was funded by the EC. This SSA links the 16 partners of PCVD to 22 affiliated laboratories and institutes in NMSs and ACCs. It provides a platform for further harmonisation of reagents across EU member states and ACCs, dissemination of information and training of young researchers in a network linked to an established international consortium working at the forefront of research into PCVD. Funding is now available through this SSA for technology transfer visits of young scientists, workshops and reagent harmonisation and distribution, thus training and integrating young scientists from across Europe with an interest in diseases of swine.

The EU and PCVD: Past, present and future

PCVD is, without doubt, the most economically important pig disease to emerge in the last 10 years and the global epizootic of this disease continues to severely affect the livelihood of producers through EU member states and elsewhere. The proactive approach of the EC from 1999 onwards, before the global explosion of the disease, in committing resources for scientists to develop diagnostics, study the pathogenesis and epidemiology of this emerging disease and unravel the complex nature of PCV2 interactions with the pig immune system at the molecular level have resulted in a globally recognised EU-based centre of expertise. This funding has also accelerated the development and application of control measures, including vaccines and established global information dissemination pathways and training opportunities for young scientists. Studies will continue on PCVD in an attempt to fully understand the complex nature of the disease process, optimise methods of control and to help to fully integrate young scientists in NMS and ACCs into future EC funded projects on swine diseases.

FOOD-CT-2004-513928, PCVD

Control of Porcine Circovirus Disease: Towards improved food quality and safety

Project coordinator: Prof Gordon Allan
Queen's University Belfast
Department of Veterinary Sciences
Stoney Road
Belfast BT4 3SD
Northern Ireland

Telephone: +44 28 9052 5679
Fax: +44 28 9052 5823

Websites :
STREP Project:
SSA Project:



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