Swift action can save pigs from deadly respiratory disease

Early intervention can minimise the impact of swine respiratory disease, which remains a significant threat to the pigmeat sector, a leading animal health expert has advised.

Findlay MacBean of animal health company Merial Animal Health said properly administered antibiotics can target illness in the pig’s lungs, minimise distress and quickly counter the illness.

He said swine respiratory disease-causing bacteria can affect pigs of any age, but growing pigs are the most affected and experience the biggest production loss.

“Normally an antibiotic treatment will be required to control swine respiratory disease, prescribed by the pig unit’s veterinary surgeon,” said Mr MacBean, Merial’s head of livestock business UK and Ireland.

“It’s important that the product used reaches the target area in the lungs quickly, ideally within 30 minutes of administration, and stays there for an extended period to minimise tissue damage and resolve the clinical signs of pneumonia.

"To minimise stress in animals with swine respiratory disease a low-dose, one-shot treatment is preferable,” he said.

He told the recent International Pig Veterinary Society Congress in Dublin that efficient and effective control of swine respiratory disease requires fast action from herdsmen and vets.

Associated production losses include 30% to 70% morbidity, a mortality rate of 4% to 6%, decreased feed efficiency and reduced growth rates.

“Infections of Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae can cause sudden death, and if not treated immediately can cause severe lung damage and mortality,” said Mr MacBean.

“Haemophilus parasuis bacteria can cause lung damage, and outbreaks in young pigs can lead to rapid and high mortality rates.

"While Pasteurella multocida is often a secondary bacterial infection, usually found in association with Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, Haemophilus parasuis and viral infections, it causes loss of condition and reduced growth rates,” he said.

Preventing swine respiratory disease is complex. Reducing the level of aerial pollutants, strict on-farm hygiene, single sourcing of piglets and attention to biosecurity can all help to prevent outbreaks.

Vaccination may be useful, particularly on breeder-feeder farms where there is a continuous flow of piglets reaching an age where maternally-derived immunity is lost and they become susceptible to disease, allowing disease to perpetuate within the herd.

Returning pigs that have had swine respiratory disease to the main herd is often ill advised. Sick pigs are often chronically affected and can act as a source of infection.

A considered health management plan should include quarantine measures which enable healthy pigs and sick pigs to be separated until finishing or they leave the unit.

Mr MacBean concluded: “Reducing losses from swine respiratory disease requires an effective disease management programme.”


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