Swine Diseases Have Changed

Changes in the pig industry have led to changes in the type and pattern of diseases, making multiple infections more common. DuPont Animal Health Solutions explains the changing face of disease control and emphasises the need for high levels of hygiene and biosecurity.
calendar icon 4 December 2008
clock icon 8 minute read


  • Pig diseases in recent years have changed fundamentally
  • Modern production systems have controlled traditional single pathogen diseases
  • However, the emergence of new disease syndromes driven by complex viral interactions has prevented the expected financial gains
  • Large populations of disease-naïve animals are particularly susceptible to the appearance of new viral pathogens
  • Biosecurity systems must be implemented to prevent viral pathogens from entering the herds
  • Recent experiences with PRDC, PCVD and highly pathogenic strains of SIV show that high levels of biosecurity are required
  • To achieve such levels of biosecurity, programmes necessitate a proven virucidal broad spectrum disinfectant – DuPont Animal Health Solutions' Virkon® S.


In the modern pig industry we are faced with much more complex pig disease than we used to be, and this change is mainly due to the evolution of different viruses which have forced us to revolutionise our approaches to disease control.

The Changes

Years ago, pig disease tended to be simple single pathogen problems. One pathogen caused one set of clinical problems. If other pathogens were involved they were simple bacterial secondary infections taking advantage of the main infection. A good example would be an outbreak of Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP) in a Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae-free herd. There would be an acute disease outbreak caused by the APP. Other bacteria such as Pasteurella multocida and Streptococcus spp. may contribute to the signs but controlling the APP would control the problem. Another example could be an outbreak of diarrhoea in weaners due to E. coli.

Now the situation is very different, and we face an array of complex diseases and syndromes involving many pathogens and primary and secondary roles. There are normally several primary pathogens. Perhaps the best example is Porcine Respiratory Disease Complex (PRDC) due to a combination of factors as shown below.

This complex is driven by the viral pathogens in varying combinations and the other factors interact and exacerbate it.

A simpler example is post-weaning diarrhoea in weaners in a PCVD outbreak involving Salmonella, E. coli and possibly TGE. Also remember these problems are not just confined to the growing herd. Reproductive problems also tend to be more complex interactions of pathogens such as PRRSV, Porcine Parvovirus and Leptospira species.

Why Has This Happened?

The main reason for this change has been the evolution of major new viruses. Yes, we have always had viral disease such as TGE and Porcine Parvovirus but these tended to happen as specific outbreaks. What we have now is a number of viruses which can interact and have a fundamental impact on the pig. Many of these viruses are shown in the PRDC diagram, but the most important are Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV), Porcine Circovirus type 2 (PCV2) and higher pathogenicity strains of Swine Influenza Virus (SIV). Also could the suggested Factor X in Porcine Circovirus Disease (PCVD) be viral?

One of the features of these new viruses is that not only do they cause disease in their own right but they interfere with the pigs’ immune system allowing other pathogens to cause further disease. They can even interfere with normal measures used in controlling disease. For example, it has been shown that PCV2 infection will prevent PRRS vaccination from being so effective.1

There are other causes of the increase in complex disease syndromes such as keeping pigs in greater numbers, high pig density areas and moving pigs about much more. Also businesses tend to be under much more pressure so management can suffer, e.g. cleaning and disinfection between batches is reduced. These are important factors but the main change is the role of viruses.

Control is Difficult

Simple diseases tended to be simple to control but modern complex diseases are not. There is a tendency to use high levels of antibiotics but these have very little effect on viruses and even have been shown to interfere with the immune system.2,3 We have to change our approach.

As always it is better to be free of as many of these pathogens as possible. First, stock breeding herds with PRRS and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae-free pigs. Vaccination can be used to control the major pathogens (e.g. PRRSV and PCV2 if present). Then, adopt segregated rearing systems to reduce the impact of any pathogens that may remain. Continuous flow systems will only make problems worse.

The main problem with this approach is that it generates a population of pigs which is highly susceptible to any introduction of pathogens and depends on preventing pathogens which are present, e.g. PCV2, from building up. Failing to protect the pigs from these underlying infections can result in serious disease outbreaks. Good biosecurity is vital to control these problems. The main approaches are to prevent the introduction of new pathogens through good external biosecurity and to stop carry over of pathogens between batches by good terminal biosecurity.

Remember that we are dealing with a large number of pathogens and that the most important ones are viral. For this reason, the disinfectant chosen must have a proven broad spectrum of activity and this must include proven efficacy against PRRSV, PCV2 and SIV. Virkon S has this activity as shown by field work, e.g. for PRRSV4, and in the laboratory, e.g. for PCV25. The disinfectant needs to be able to work in all temperatures that are likely to be experienced and should be easy to use. For ongoing use, it should be less likely to generate acquired disinfectant resistance.6,7,8

Such a disinfectant should then be built into a specialist biosecurity programme, for example the DuPont Animal Health Solutions Pig biosecurity programme, to work at an internal and external level. It should be used following thorough cleaning including a heavy duty detergent (Biosolve Plus) and carried through into such areas as vehicle biosecurity, terminal disinfection and many other areas of continuous protection for the pigs.

Once we have prevented infection and build-up of challenge, especially of these viruses, then we can utilize other methods to control disease. Examples of this would be vaccination, e.g. for PRRS and PCVD, and strategic medication where bacterial secondaries are increasing.


Pig diseases in recent years have changed fundamentally and while modern production systems have controlled traditional single pathogen diseases, the emergence of new disease syndromes largely driven by complex viral interactions has stopped us from gaining the benefits we expected.

To quote Pijoan et al., “Large scale swine production based on off site production systems will continue and increase globally. These large populations of naïve animals will be particularly susceptible to the appearance of new pathogens, unless we can design a biosecurity that can prevent these pathogens from entering the herds.”9

Recent experiences with PRDC, PCVD and highly pathogenic strains of SIV show that we need to design a very high biosecurity.


  1. Opriessnig T., McKeown N.E., Harmon K.L., Meng X.J. and Halbur P.G., 2006a. Porcine circovirus type 2 infection decreases the efficacy of a modified live porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus vaccine. Clin Vaccine Immunol. 13:923-929
  2. Grondel, J.L. et al., 1985. The influence of antibiotics on the immune system. III. Investigations on the cellular functions of chicken leukocytes in vitro. Vet. Immunol. Immunopathol. 10: 4, 307-316
  3. Al-Ankari, A.S. and Homeida, A.M., 1966. Effect of antibacterial growth promoters on the immune system of broiler chicks. Vet. Immunol. Immunopathol. 53: 3-4, 277-283
  4. Dee, S.A. et al., 2006. Evaluation of an industry-based sanitation protocol for full-size transport vehicles contaminated with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. J Swine Health Prod. 14(6): 307-311
  5. Royer, R.L., 2001. Susceptibility of Porcine Circovirus type 2 to commercial and laboratory disinfectants. J. Swine Health Prod. 9 (6): 281-284
  6. Gradel, K.O. et al., 2005. Possible associations between Salmonella persistence in poultry houses and resistance to commonly used disinfectants and a putative role of mar. Vet. Microbiology 107: 127-138
  7. Karatzas, K. A. et al., 2007. Prolonged treatment of Salmonella enteric serovar Typhimurium with commercial disinfectants selects for multiple antibiotic resistance, increased efflux and reduced invasiveness. J. Antimicrob. Chemother. 60: 947-955
  8. Randall, L. P. et al., 2007. Commonly used farm disinfectants can select for mutant Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium with decreased susceptibility to biocides and antibiotics without compromising virulence. J. Antimicrob. Chemother. 60: 1273-1280.
  9. Pijoan C., Terremorell, M., Dee S.A. and Deen J., 2004. Pig health and Production – Past, Present and Future. Proc IPVS Hamburg 2004 Vol.1

December 2008
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