Update on New Piglet Diarrhoea in Europe

Recent reports about a possible new threat of piglet diarrhoea in Denmark and France have sparked concern in the EU pig industry. Jackie Linden, editor of ThePigSite, reviews the information currently available.
calendar icon 23 September 2009
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Two weeks ago, ThePigSite reported that there had been a growing incidence of a new syndrome of neonatal diarrhoea in young piglets from Denmark and France at the first European Symposium on Porcine Health Management in Copenhagen at the end of August. Enquiries received from the industry prompted our investigation for further details.

In a news item on ThePigSite two weeks ago, BPEX reported that mortalities up to 40 per cent had been recorded, that the cause of the syndrome was unknown and that farmers and vets had been struggling to contain the disease with no effective treatment, vaccination or control measures at this stage.

So reviewing the currently available literature, what do we know about the condition? That is has been reported in a significant number of herds in Brittany (in up to 20 per cent of herds) and in Denmark adds some credence to the theory that it is linked with hyperprolific production. A French study found a higher incidence of neonatal diarrhoea in the litters of gilts and second parity sows. An inadequate intake of immunoglobulins in the colostrum may be a risk factor, although the researchers proposed that excessive colostrum production may contribute to the syndrome.

Microbiological and pathological testing of affected piglets in Denmark have been inconclusive. So we are left with hyperprolificacy, over-use of antibiotics, chilling in the creep area and shift suckling among other possible risk factors proposed.

French Study on Risk Factors for Neonatal Piglet Diarrhoea

The first published reference to the syndrome was presented in a paper given at Journées Recherche Porcine in Paris earlier this year. Jean-Noël Sianelli (Farm'apro-Cooperl in Lamballe, Brittany) and co-authors from EAS-Angers, INRA Toulouse and IFIP-Institut du Porc presented a paper with the English title 'Is there a relationship between sows' characteristics and neonatal diarrhoea occurrence? Proposed answers from measurements performed in commercial units'.

In the summary of their paper, they report that in some areas, almost 20 per cent of the farms have been affected with enzootic neonatal diarrhoea.

Their study indicates that neonatal diarrhoea is more likely in litters of gilts and parity 2 sows although it was not correlated with colostrum 'quality'. Prolonged farrowing was also linked to the condition, especially in the later-born piglets.

The French group had evaluated the influence of selected performance parameters on piglet diarrhoea, especially in connection with some characteristics of the colostrum. On nine commercial units, they measured the dams' backfat thickness, chronoparts (individual time at birth of littermates) as well as piglet weight at birth and after 24 hours as an estimate of colostrum intake. From a sub-sample of sows, they performed as assay of immunoglobulin IgG in colostrum and piglet plasma to give an indication of the 'quality' of the plasma.

Statistical analyses were performed to compare control litters (no diarrhoea) in non-affected herds (five herds), control litters in affected herds (four herds) and affected litters.

Sianelli and his colleagues found that litters from gilts and second parity sows were more likely to develop piglet diarrhoea. Farrowing time was longer in young sows in affected farms than in unaffected ones. Piglets born towards the end of farrowing were more prone to diarrhoea, and it was found that their serum IgG levels were more variable. For affected farms, they found no differences in the immune 'quality' of colostrum between herds with neonatal diarrhoea and those without.

They concluded: "Colostrum yield (in excess) appears to be another risk factor, introducing a new hypothesis on nutritional origin for piglets' diarrhoea."

Review on Neonatal Diarrhoea Syndrome in Brittany

A paper entitled 'New neonatal diarrhoea syndrome in France' was presented by Professor Guy Pierre Martineau of France's National Veterinary School in Toulouse at the first European Symposium on Porcine Health Management in Copenhagen last month.

He is reported to have said that 15 to 20 per cent of breeding herds in Brittany have already experienced the new condition, and that the disease has mainly affected high performing and well-managed herds.

Professor Martineau said that hyperprolificacy, over-use of antibiotics, chilling in the creep area, nutritional factors and various microorganisms have all been suggested as possible factors.

Danish Study into Possible Infectious Agent

A second paper on the new syndrome at the European Symposium on Porcine Health Management was presented by B. Svensmark of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council.

In a paper entitled 'New neonatal diarrhoea syndrome in Denmark', Dr Svensmark reported that there are no outstanding aspects of the histology or microbiology in piglets with neonatal diarrhoea. Non-haemolytic E. coli and Clostridium perfringens type A were found in a high proportion of affected piglets but they are also isolated in pigs without enteritis. Cl. difficile was isolated in some affected animals but its role in neonatal diarrhoea in piglets is unclear.

Dr Svensmark said that the Laboratory of Swine Diseases at Kjellerup is operated by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council and performs diagnostic service for swine veterinary practitioners from all parts of Denmark. Each year, between 2,000 and 4,000 pigs are submitted for post mortem from herds with disease problems. Routine pathological and microbiological examinations are carried out in Kjellerup, while specialised tests is carried out in collaboration with Technical University of Denmark, National Veterinary Institute. All submitted pigs were autopsied and examined microbiologically by standard methods.

In the past three years, approximately 80 per cent of laboratory submissions have been due to clinical problems with neonatal diarrhoea.

Dr Svensmark said that typically, pathological findings were minor and non-specific since the pigs have no signs of dehydration and have a normal content of milk in the stomachs. The small intestines were usually either contracted or atonic and dilated. There was rarely hyperaemia or congestion in the intestines. Intestinal contents were yellowish and aqueous, the intestinal mucosa had no changes and the lymph nodes mostly without reaction. Likewise colon and caecum had a normal intestinal mucosa while the content was creamy to watery with a yellowish colour.

Generally, no pathological changes were observed in organs other than intestines. Routine examinations included aerobic cultivation of E. coli with subsequent serotyping and anaerobic cultivation for Clostridium perfringens type A and C. Some of the pigs are also tested for Cl. difficile and rotavirus. The findings are shown in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1. Bacteriological and virological findings in 220 submissions of pigs younger than five days with anamnesis of clinical signs of enteritis in 2008 and 2009
Agent Positive Total analysed Per cent positive analyses
Non-haemolytic E. coli 121 220 55
Haemolytic E. coli 15 220 7
Enterotoxigenic E. coli 32 195 16
Cl. perfringens type A 177 220 80
Cl. perfringens type C 1 220 0
Cl. difficile 20 63 32
Rotavirus 16 134 12

Table 2. Distribution of serotypes in the 15 submission with haemolytic E. coli shown in Table 1.
E. coli serotype O8 13
E. coli serotype O45 1
E. coli serotype O149 1

Dr Svensmark said that in most cases, the microbiological testing was insufficient to explain the problem in herds with severe neonatal diarrhea, and that the histological studies of the intestines of pigs with acute diarrhoea were generally inconclusive.

Dr Svensmark noted that E. coli serotype O149 has virtually disappeared during recent years. This may be due to fact that genetic selection for F4 receptors has been carried out in the Danavl breeding herds since 2003.

E. coli serotype O8 was the predominant E. coli-type in neonatal diarrhoea. As non-haemolytic E. coli and Cl. perfringens type A may be isolated in pigs without enteritis, Dr Svensmark did not consider them to be important causal agents of neonatal enteritis. The role of Cl. difficile in neonatal enteritis in Denmark was unclear.


Martineau G.P. 2009. New neonatal diarrhoea syndrome in France. 1st European Symposium on Porcine Health Management, Copenhagen, Denmark, August 2009.

Siallelli, J-N., Y. Lautrou, I. Oswald and N. Quiniou. 2009. [[Is there a relationship between sows' characteristics and neonatal diarrhoea occurrence? Proposed answers from measurements performed in commercial units]. Journées de Recherche Porcine, 41: 167-172.

Svensmark, B. 2009. New neonatal diarrhoea syndrome in Denmark. Proceedings of 1st European Symposium on Porcine Health Management, Copenhagen, Denmark, August 2009. p27.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

We would like to thank Derek Armstrong of BPEX for his help in supplying information for this article.

September 2009
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