Feral hogs becoming public health issue

Feral hogs are an invasive species that have long been known for their ability to cause damage on property and in fields and prey upon livestock and other small animals, but now they can also be considered a threat to public health, carrying pathogenic E. coli that can spread to both people and livestock.

Mike Bodenchuk, Texas state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services (WS), delivered this message to a Texas predator management board in February, saying, “It’s pathogenic E. coli that is the problem. The reality is that it’s not just bacteria, its bad bacteria.”

According to Bodenchuk, seven feral hogs were recently test for E. coli in Texas, six of them had strains that would have caused illness or death in livestock, and four had strains that would cause illness in humans.

The other diseases feral hogs carry, such as pseudorabies and swine brucellosis, are great economic concern to the domestic swine industry. In fact, according to Bill Clay, deputy administrator of WS speaking at the Animal Ag Coalition, of those feral hogs that were killed by WS almost one in four carry either pseudorabies or swine brucellosis – 17 percent were infected with pseudorabies and 6 percent were infected with swine brucellosis.

WS is the only federal agency working to control these beasts that cause about $400 million in damage annually. They inhabit mostly the southern part of the United States but are so prolific they can be found as far north as Idaho.

WS’ approach to control these invasive species is varied and includes fencing, cage trapping and hunting. In fact, in the last 12 months, WS has been able to eliminate about 25,000 feral hogs due in large part to aerial hunting.

It is clear that feral hogs have a tremendously negative impact on the agricultural community and natural resources. WS’ involvement in this issue is another example of how they are working to resolve wildlife conflicts.

“The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) supports the efforts of WS in protecting our nation’s livestock and property,” explains Peter Orwick, executive director of ASI. “Feral hogs are not only a public health issue because of the diseases they carry but they also feast on field crops and are efficient predators, and – when given the opportunity – will prey upon young livestock such as lambs.”

ASI is a national organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 82,330 sheep producers.

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