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Erysipelas more widespread in Ont. pigs

Erysipelas more widespread in Ont. pigs

The bacteria can cause severe chronic symptoms and mortality if left untreated 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

Veterinarians in Ontario have observed an increase in the prevalence of erysipelas in swine across the province over the last three years. The bacteria can cause illness and mortality on farms, and carcass condemnation at abattoirs.

The reason for the increase in cases is unclear, Dr. Ryan Tenbergen, a Tavistock-based swine veterinarian at Demeter Veterinary Services, told Though the bacteria has many different strains, “it appears the available vaccines are protective against circulating erysipelas strains, so it is possible we have to rethink our preventative approaches.”

The bacteria “is widespread in pig populations. Up to 50 per cent of apparently healthy pigs carry the bacteria in their tonsils and other tissues. It has also been shown to survive well in facilities and on equipment,” Tenbergen explained. “The good news is that commonly available disinfectants kill the bacteria. Antimicrobial therapy early in the course of infection often results in a good response. Vaccination programs are generally successful in prevention of clinical disease, but currently, vaccination for erysipelas is not a standard across farms.”

Erysipelas may present in pigs in acute or subacute forms, and either can become a chronic condition.

“The acute form of disease has many clinical signs, from fever and depression to severe lameness to acute death. It is during the acute form of disease that we see the typical diamond skin lesions many are familiar with and is specific to erysipelas,” Tenbergen said. The subacute form tends to have less severe symptoms.

“Chronic erysipelas follows either the acute or subacute forms with the most common clinical sign being lameness or arthritis, but can also include respiratory disease and heart failure,” he added. “The greatest losses occur as sudden death during the acute disease in grow-finish pigs, but those pigs surviving an acute infection may experience chronic lameness, poor growth and abattoir condemnations.”

Scientists have reported some strains with resistance to certain classes of antibiotics, however, penicillin “has been used for many years and continues to be a good choice” to treat erysipelas, Tenbergen said.

“We must always consider judicial use of antimicrobials and shift our focus to preventative measures to control clinical disease,” he added.

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