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Scientists are developing antibiotic alternatives to treat pigs for PID

Scientists at the University of Nairobi are developing a healthier and more affordable alternative to antibiotics to address a disease in pigs known as porcine infectious diarrhea (PID).

The scientists in Kenya are collaborating with counterparts from The Ohio State University to identify probiotics that could save pig farmers the trouble of buying and (mis)using antibiotics.

The IDRC-supported project is looking into which probiotics would work best to combat rotavirus in pigs and in what doses. The probiotics under trial are currently being administered in solution form to the farm animals.

PID is caused by rotaviruses that animals are exposed to in contaminated environments, said Dr. Joshua Onono, a veterinarian who is leading the team of scientists in the research project. He explained that rotaviruses affect piglets in particular, causing diarrhea that can lead to stunted growth. 

“They will lose weight and the farmer will spend more on feed,” Onono stated. “This, together with costs incurred in treatment, will eat into the farmer’s profits.”

The challenge with rotaviruses, added Onono, is that they spread quickly within a herd and contaminate the environment. They also affect other farm animals like poultry. 

“The only way for a farmer to rid the farm of the virus is by depleting the infected stock and staying without animals for some time, while disinfecting the farm throughout, before introducing a new and healthy herd,” Onono said.

This is a situation that pig farmers like Lydia Karume are keen to avoid. Karume, who has a pig farm in Kenya’s Murang’a County, said that diarrhea is the major cause of death among her piglets. 

“The diarrhea is usually virulent: in some piglets they start to have diarrhea in the morning and by sunset they are dead,” she said. “As a pig farmer, you need to have medicines — or the money to acquire them — ready at all times so that you can respond quickly,” Karume added.

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