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Penny Middleton
Animal Health & Welfare, Pigs & Poultry
Policy Manager
T:  0131 472 4021
M: 07818 612615
E:  penny.middleton@nfus.org.uk

Swine Dysentery in Scotland

After 3 years of freedom from swine dysentery in Scotland, there is currently an active outbreak of swine dysentery in Scotland, with confirmed positive units ranging from Banff down to Duns.  The outbreaks appear to be part of a wider problem affecting a number of areas in the UK – Yorkshire, East Anglia and south-west England.

Notify suspicion of disease

In Scotland, all assured producers have signed up to the QMS Significant Diseases charter which lists the diseases that should be reported to the Scottish Pig Disease Control Centre. Swine dysentery is on that list. The aim of the charter is to work collectively to prevent accidental spread of diseases to other units through getting assistance with suitable transport arrangements, disease control measures, etc.

Please contact your vet & us on 01466 705247 if you suspect any symptoms as working together and rapid communication greatly increase our chances of containing the spread.

About the disease

Disease is incredibly infectious, caused by a bacterial infection called Brachyspira hyodysenteriae.  Pigs get infected by ingesting small amounts of infected faecal material that could be introduced by;

  • buying in infected carrier pigs
  • transporting pigs in dirty wagons that have transported infected pigs
  • contaminated boots, lorries or equipment coming onto the unit 
  • other potential routes of infection (vermin, birds etc. can spread infection between farms).

It takes a week or two for the infection to become established in the pig or pigs that have ingested that material. Once the infection is established the bacteria multiply quickly and spread to other pigs over the following months.

Scrape-through dung passages can spread the infection from pen to pen.  Likewise, people going into infected pens can spread infection into passages and other pens unless they are very careful to wash and disinfect boots as they exit infected pens.

Clinical signs

Dysentery can affect pigs anytime from about 6 weeks old onwards. Most outbreaks are seen initially in grower or finisher stages.

The first sign is diarrhoea that is grey/brown in colour and of loose consistency to start with but as the infection progresses, the faeces contains more mucous so might appear ‘shiny’ or have evident clumps on mucus on the surface. There might be reasonably fresh-looking blood in the faeces and in the worst cases, severe bloody diarrhoea.

Such pigs look obviously ill – tend to lie to the sides of the pen, be unwilling to rise, might have slightly ‘flushed-looking’ skin colour and be slab-sided and ‘empty’ looking through the combination of poor appetite and diarrhoea.  Badly affected pigs can die from swine dysentery.

Adult pigs can get dysentery and show similar clinical signs but it is rarely fatal.

Pigs that recover can return to normal, developing time-limited immunity to the infection, but pigs can continue to shed infection for another 3 – 4 weeks.  This is a major risk factor for moving pigs between farms, especially if those pigs are sent to a dysentery-free site.

Protect your unit

You are advised to take immediate precautions to minimise the risk of infectious material coming onto your farm. This bacterium is spread by physical contact so the big risks are incoming pigs, vehicles, people and equipment. Make sure you have ample disinfectant and consider increasing strength in cold weather. Use the links below for information sheets giving more detailed advice.

Other Risks

APHA have raised the UK threat level from African Swine Fever up to Medium. This is the disease that is ravaging Asia and Eastern Europe, causing massive disruption to the global pork supply chain. ASF spreads through contact between pigs and meat products.

With active threats from both Swine Dysentery and African Swine Fever Biosecurity is crucial.

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