29 August 1997

Dont be caught by

greasy pig disease

GREASY pig disease cases have increased threefold in the last few months, with hot humid weather aiding its spread.

All pigs carry strains of the Staphylococcus bug responsible for causing the disease on their skin, explains Royal Veterinary College dermatologist David Lloyd.

"Affected pigs have greasy skin, reduced growth rates, and even after treatment, may remain stunted. But some strains of the bug are more virulent and when the skin is broken invade, causing death within 24 hours," he says. Young pigs – from two weeks up to weaning – are most susceptible. Infection is more likely when pigs are undernourished and their immune system depressed, for example in the summer when the sows milk supply is reduced. Competition for feed also leads to fighting between pigs, causing injuries and hence increasing the likelihood of infection.

For this reason adequate feed must be offered and anything likely to cause injury, such as abrasive surfaces, should be removed or covered.

"Antibiotic treatment can prevent death providing the disease is caught immediately but antibiotic resistance is now being seen in some strains," he says.

One successful treatment Dr Lloyd helped develop was to apply a harmless form of the bug to the newly-born piglets skin.

"Treated at this stage before the virulent forms could colonise the skin, greasy pig disease was prevented. This was the case even on farm scale when the vet college treated its own pigs," he explains.

The same technique – known as bacterial interference – has been used successfully in humans and is under development for dogs. However, funding for the technique in agriculture was withdrawn before it could be applied commercially.

"This technique could be the answer to many infections where pathogens colonise the skin because it is a harmless method, of disease prevention – as opposed to a cure – which is unaffected by antibiotic resistance," he adds.n

Greasy pig disease is caused by Staphylococcus bugs present on the skin of all pigs. The more virulent strains of the bug can cause death in 24 hours.