Project Investigates Piglet Diarrhoea Risk Factors

AUSTRALIA - A Pork CRC PhD candidate at the University of Sydney is carrying out a comprehensive risk factor analysis of E.coli disease in the piggery environment, including the possible role of antibiotic use.
calendar icon 5 August 2014
clock icon 4 minute read

Lechelle van Breda is a Pork CRC-funded student who has just completed the first year of her PhD as part of Pork CRC Project 2A-106. She commenced her PhD after completing Honours in marine science and a double degree in a Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales.

Pork CRC
Pork CRC PhD candidate, Lechelle van Breda

Ms van Breda's research focuses on pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) disease that causes severe diarrhoea in weaner and suckling piglets.

Weaning for the piglets is a very stressful time and can lead to the outbreak of gastrointestial diseases such as E. coli. Piglets are most susceptible to E. coli during weaning when they are experiencing changes in diet, gut flora and movement to a new environment.

Pathogenic E. coli colonise the lower intestine where the bacteria produce enterotoxins, stimulating water and electrolyte loss, leading to dehydration and potentially death if left untreated.

Clinical signs include diarrhoea or scours, dehydration, depression, lack of appetite and weight loss. It is a cause for substantial concern, as significant production losses are experienced, including reduced growth rates, high medication costs and high levels of mortality and morbidity.

Pulling Triggers

According to Ms van Breda, we understand there are interactions between animals, the environment and humans, but we do not understand why some farms experience this problem and others do not.

This is important for the Australian pig industry, as we do not know what the key risk factors are that trigger an E. coli disease outbreak. It is also uncertain what and how often antibiotics are being administered to treat this disease and if there is any threat of antibiotic resistance to public health.

Therefore, the aim of Ms van Breda’s project is to determine the high risk factors for E. coli disease in post-weaned piglets and ways to minimise those factors that could potentially contribute to a disease outbreak.

Farming Faeces

A survey will assess and discuss key management and hygiene strategies with farmers to build a picture of everyday farm practices across several different commercial farms and draw key links between possible high risk factors and E. coli disease outbreaks.

Based on this evidence, Ms van Breda anticipates that effective management strategies can be developed and implemented to reduce E. coli outbreaks, helping to minimise production costs. So far, 22 commercial piggeries in south-eastern Australia have been visited and faecal samples collected from pre- and post-weaned piglets. These samples are being assessed to identify and determine the prevalence of different pathogenic E. coli strains present in Australia’s pig population. This knowledge is important and could assist future vaccine development.

Resistance Patterns

The next step in this project is to assess the antimicrobial and disinfectant resistance patterns of E. coli in Australian pigs. As the threat of antibiotic resistance in public health is driving changes to the antibiotics available for livestock industries, alternatives to indiscriminate use of antimicrobials are needed. This project will determine if we are seeing any resistance to common antibiotics and if this can be reduced by simple changes to management practices, which can then provide an alternative long-term, sustainable solution to what is an emerging problem.

Pork CRC Program 2, ‘Herd Health Management’ aims to enhance animal health, while reducing antibiotic use in commercial pork production.

Further Reading

Find out more information on E. coli diarrhoea in piglets by clicking here.

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