Moving parts: Integrated, holistic approach needed for effective mycoplasma control

Renewed interest in Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (M. hyo) and its impact on herd health and performance has prompted producers and veterinarians to re-evaluate control strategies for the costly bacterial disease.
calendar icon 31 March 2020
clock icon 5 minute read

David Baumert, DVM, senior technical services veterinarian for Zoetis, outlined five elements needed for more successful M. hyo-control programs.

1. Partnership with producers

Disease control programs can’t be completed in a vacuum, Baumert said. Producers need to know they have partners, including their herd veterinarian and technical service veterinarians at animal health companies, as they work to develop effective control programs.

“When producers know they have support, they find energy and resources, and as a result, these programs generally work. When the programs don’t work, veterinarians need to be the people providing the next steps of the solution — reviewing the process and finding out what can be changed or modified,” Baumert said. “Good communication, transparency and recordkeeping are key.”

2. Establish herd status

“A ‘decision tree’ is used during the risk-assessment phase to determine whether a herd is more suited for a relatively simple M. hyo-control program or better suited for a more intensive, true Mycoplasma-elimination program,” Baumert said.

He added that sometimes the risk assessment is easy. A producer complains about a dry, hacking cough in the finisher, along with morbidity, mortality and average-daily-gain losses. Other times, Baumert said, it may be necessary to ask questions to understand more about the operation:

  • Are they currently using a vaccine or bacterin for hyo?
  • Did they miss a treatment in a group of pigs?
  • What protocols are in place to protect pigs at the present time?
  • Are there management practices that need to be incorporated?
  • Are they in a pig-dense area?
  • Are they interested in vaccine or pig-management protocols in order to use antibiotics more judiciously?

Answering these questions will help determine the future actions needed.

3. Do the diagnostic work

After the presumptive diagnosis, Baumert said specific diagnostics, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing along with tissue tests and serology, are needed. He pointed out that detailed diagnostic requirements for health-status categories take into account the expected prevalence of M. hyoin the population, as well as the sensitivity of the sampling technique and diagnostic tests. Following a control or an elimination program, testing should be repeated to determine the effectiveness of the intervention, regardless of which program is used.

4. Apply risk-management protocols

“Not every solution is good for every customer,” Baumert said. He stressed the need to work as a team with herd veterinarians and producers to find tailored interventions for given situations.

Baumert noted that the pork industry has many tools available for managing M. hyo, including feed medications, injectable antibiotics and vaccines.

“Rather than shoot in the dark, it’s best to take an integrated, holistic approach that involves all the tools at your disposal,” he said. “Again, it’s a matter of all parties working together to determine the action plan.”

That includes biosecurity. Adequate biosecurity is critical - not only to mitigate or eliminate these risk factors but also to understand risk factors that can help determine the most realistic and sustainable control strategy. He listed these key biosecurity factors critical to M. hyo control:

  • Gilt source: “If the gilts coming in next month and 6 months from now are infected with Mycoplasma, there’s no value in cleaning Mycoplasma out of the sow herd,” he said. “The gilts will redeliver it.”
  • Farm geography: “We need to know if this farm is located in a geography in which we can reasonably expect it to stay Mycoplasma-negative for two to three years,” Baumert said. “The cost of a full, intensive, premium Mycoplasma-elimination program will cost approximately the same as the additional gain you make from all the Mycoplasma-negative healthy pigs for about a year.” Most production companies with which he’s worked are looking for a two- or three-fold return on investment. If a farm is able to do a full elimination and can get a year’s worth of Mycoplasma-negative pigs, that producer has made his money back, Baumert said.
  • Pig flow: Veterinarians should ask if pigs from the sow farm will be placed in a wean-to-finish site where they are mixed only with other Mycoplasma-negative pigs. That’s a critical point, because if the pigs from a farm that has gone through an elimination program are put into the same wean-to-finish, continuous-flow site as Mycoplasma-infected pigs, “we haven’t really accomplished much,” Baumert said.

5. Implement a program

Producers and veterinarians can now begin developing a plan that’s best for the farm. Whether the team has chosen a control program or a potential elimination program, each has a timeline to follow, Baumert said, and the management team must commit to maintaining it.

Medication can be used for control, treatment, or disease elimination, and all these steps should be carried out with proper timing and coordination. The long-term goal is to eliminate M. hyo shedding from mother to piglet and reduce the number of positive piglets at weaning.

Follow-up is important

The roadmap basically goes full-circle at this point, Baumert said, because communication and cooperation with farm partners ensures a successful program.

“The goal is to have pigs marketing in a healthier, more productive fashion, in terms of Mycoplasma disease, than they were prior to implementing a program” Baumert said. “These programs generally work, but if one doesn’t, we need to be the people on top of providing the next steps of the solution by reviewing the process and finding out what we can change or modify.”

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