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Erysipelas In Pigs -'Diamond Skin Disease' Disclaimer

Erysipelas is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae.

It is commonly know as 'diamond skin disease'. Significant production losses may result from erysipelas in pigs causing deaths, abortion, ill-thrift and rejection of carcasses at the abattoir. The economic losses due to slow growth and chronic illness can be greater than those resulting from acute outbreaks. For example, in the grower herd a 10 gram per day reduction in growth rate equates to a reduction in returns per sow of around $30.

Although erysipelas is widespread across the pig industry, outbreaks of acute disease are less common than chronic infections.

Causative organism   Top
Erysipelas is caused by the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. The bacteria exists as a large number of serotypes; within each serotype, organisms will vary considerably in their ability to produce disease. In Australia and New Zealand swine erysipelas is generally caused by serotype 1 and 2.

Not all pigs exposed to the disease become infected. Some infected pigs will show no obvious symptoms; these 'carrier' pigs can be a continuous source of infection for the rest of the herd.

Because the causative organism can survive for long periods under some conditions, the risk of infection from carrier pigs remains constant. A continuing program of preventative vaccination is recommended. In instances where vaccination has been stopped, significant and costly erysipelas outbreaks have followed.

Signs and symptoms   Top
Erysipelas occurs in three forms, differentiated by clinical symptoms; Acute Erysipelas, Sube-Acute Erysipelas and Chronic Erysipelas.

Acute Erysipelas   Top
Pigs suffer severe illness and fever (40°C+), lethargy, dperessed appetite and the skin may become discoloured or reddened to some degree - the ears and underline may become 'purple'. Vomiting, diarrhoea and discharges from the eyes may occur. Sows may abort. A large number of pigs may die within days.

Sub-acute Erysipelas   Top
This form of infection is sometimes known as the 'Diamond Skin Disease'. The symptoms are similar to acute erysipelas although they will be milder. Characteristic diamond-shaped red blotches appear on the skin, mainly about the abdomen. The blotches may fade and the pigs recover although in some cases wounds may be slow to heal.

Chronic Erysipelas   Top
This is the most common form of erysipelas. It usually involves arthritis affecting the knee, elbow, stifle, hock and hip joints. Losses occur due to lameness, ill-thrift and carcass condemnation. Exercise or physical exertion can result in breathlessness, coughing and a blue-purple skin colour; pigs may die when stressed by transport or excessive handling. Piglets born to infected sows may be weak or dead at birth. Heart disease with growths on heart valves may be involved.

Diagnosis   Top
Erysipelas should be considered whenever pigs die or suddenly get sick. The symptoms of erysipelas infection - fever, skin lesions, arthritis and heart failure, are also common to a number of other diseases. It is therefore important to seek veterinary advice for an accurate diagnosis and recommended control measures.

Treatment   Top
Acute outbreaks of erysipelas often respond to treatment with antibiotics, such as penicillin. While this may save the pig's life, the infection may persist. Consult your veterinarian before beginning treatment.

Pigs suffering from the arthritic form of erysipelas are generally regarded as incurable. Isolate affected animals. Burn carcasses and disinfect the area of the infected pigs' previous accommodation using caustic soda or hypochlorite solutions.

Human infection   Top
Human contact with acutely infected pigs or pig carcasses can result in a painful local skin condition described as erysipeloid. It appears as an enlarged red or purplish swollen area that has a well-defined margin and a clearing centre. The disease is rarely serious or life-threatening although in these instances symptoms can include generalised skin infection, septicaemia and heart disease.

Control and prevention   Top
Routine vaccination is the best available means of controlling erysipelas; your veterinarian can recommend a suitable program.

Eradication of erysipelas on individual piggeries is considered impractical due to the large number of 'carrier' pigs and other 'carrier' species including birds and rodents. The causative organism may also survive indefinitely in certain environments for considerable periods.

An effective vaccination program will maximise herd immunity.

Recommended vaccination program   Top
Pfizer's Eryvac™ and Lepto-Eryvac™ are both registered for the control of erysipelas in pigs.

A primary vaccination should be given to all unvaccinated stock. They should receive 2 doses at a 4 to 6 week interval. In unvaccinated herds, all pigs should be vaccinated, regardless of age or sex. Introduced pigs should be vaccinated twice before entering the herd. In the event of an outbreak of erysipelas, all pigs on the property should be vaccinated immediately, followed by a second dose in 4 to 6 weeks time. Booster doses should be given at regular six monthly intervals to all stock to maintain herd immunity.

In the event of an outbreak of erysipelas, give 1 dose to all pigs on the property, followed by a further dose in 4 - 6 weeks. Booster doses are then required for all pigs at regular 6 monthly intervals. Ideally, vaccinated pregnant sows should receive a booster dose of Eryvac about 4 weeks before their expected date of farrowing. Piglets born to vaccinated sows should then be protected during the first 10 to 12 weeks of life. It is strongly recommended that vaccination of all pigs held on the property should commence when they are 3 months of age. Vaccinate introduced pigs before they enter the herd.

Pfizer Australia Pty Ltd. 38–42 Wharf Road, West Ryde NSW 2114.
Freecall: 1800 335 374
™Trademark of Pfizer Australia.

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