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Research focused on respiratory pathogen load

Research at Iowa State University is focused on helping hog producers and veterinarians better recognize the pathogen burdens of several major diseases and their potential risks.

Sarah Muirhead 1

May 24, 2018

3 Min Read
Research focused on respiratory pathogen load

Respiratory pathogens can significantly impact the productivity and profitability of growing pigs, but, to date, producers and veterinarians have not had a way to accurately measure and assess overall bottom line implications and losses associated specifically to respiratory disease.

That, however, may be changing. Research out of Iowa State University is focused on helping hog producers and veterinarians better recognize the pathogen burden on an operation so more informed decisions can be made when dealing with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRS), influenza A virus of swine (IAV-S), Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (Mhp) and porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2).

“If you don’t know what something is costing you, it is very difficult to decide how many resources to allocate to reduce the problem,” said Dr. Derald Holtkamp, associate professor, Iowa State University.

If pathogen burdens are more routinely trackable, producers can better determine the time and resources to devote to certain diseases to resolve issues that are killing pigs and sapping profitability, Holtkamp said.

The work being done at Iowa State is in its initial stage and more pigs need to be monitored and data collected, but Holtkamp explained that what has been proven so far is that the approach may be used to help producers identify the greatest opportunities to reduce the impact of disease and improve profitability.

At the American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting in San Diego, Iowa State student Rachel Stika presented the initial research results involving 45 flows from seven different production systems. Commercial pigs were used in those to provide for more real-world production data. Oral fluid samples were taken bi-weekly from nursery placement to market, making for at least 10 samples from each of the flows.

Stika summarized that the study demonstrated that pen based, bi-weekly oral fluid collections can indeed be used to identify patterns of respiratory pathogen burden in groups of growing pigs associated with total and phase-specific mortality.

“We’ve been able to classify groups of pigs based on  results of testing the oral fluid samples for multiple pathogens by PCR and we can directly correlate that with production losses –- mortality and average daily gain,” said Holtkamp. He noted that they have a strong sense that as more and more data is collected on more groups of pigs, patterns will emerge that have not yet been identified.

According to Holtkamp, the goal is to classify groups of growing pigs based on the diagnostic results that are associated with production losses. Long-term, he said, perhaps a web-based monitoring tool can be developed for use by producers and veterinarians. The possibility exists for such a tool within the next several years, Holtkamp said.

Dr. Christa Goodell, technical manager in Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica’s swine division, who also has been involved in the Iowa State assessment, said this is the first prospective investigation associating pathogen burden with the productivity of growing pigs.

“When producers start understanding the burden and pattern of the pathogens they have, they will be able to better identify where the risks of infection are and work toward more impactful solutions,” said Goodell. This creates a model that lets producers be more aware of when and how key respiratory pathogens are impacting their pigs, and the potential loss in productivity that is likely, she said.

“It’s a great start to finally help the industry get its arms around the patterns of respiratory pathogen burden in growing pigs  in US swine operations and what that may mean in terms of lost productivity. Right now, producers really don’t know. They may have more of a problem than they realize,” Goodell said.

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