New diagnostics detect, treat pig diseases in hours

Molecular technology is speeding up the investigation into pig infections and opening up new possibilities for disease prevention and control.

Pig producers must keep a close eye on their herds and record AND report any changes in behavior or health of their pigs. This was highlighted yet again—at a conference focusing on the rapid advances in diagnostics and the ability of laboratories to identify new diseases within hours, rather than months.

The meeting highlighted ongoing developments in molecular technology that are speeding up the investigation into pig infections and opening up new possibilities for disease prevention and control.

Emerging pig diseases  

Not only will the latest diagnostic tools – such as the rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits – allow vets to accurately identify new disease threats in pig herds, they also allow them to target treatments more accurately, reducing the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. They also will play a critical role in protecting global pig herds from emerging disease threats.

Scientists and researchers at the briefing, all agreed that modern technology is providing veterinarians with exciting new tools to manage the health and welfare of production animals, monitor herd health and build up accurate and dynamic pictures of health status and risk profiles, as well as screen for emerging diseases.

“Diagnostic tests are no longer confined just to finding out what killed an animal,” says Dr. Kirk Adams, director of production management at Life Technologies Corporation. “In future, we will be able to use gene sequencing to determine the sensitivity of individual pigs to specific treatments. Molecular tests such as PCR also will facilitate eradication programs, more effective biosecurity measures and the management of diseases for which there is no effective treatment yet.”

However, all the “boffins” at the event agreed that in spite of all these advances, the battle against pig diseases still depends on the farmer reporting any change in the health or behavior and ensuring that “clean” samples are sent to the relevant laboratory as quickly as possible.

“In the past, pig producers were reluctant to send off samples, because they thought they would be closed down or subject to movement restrictions for days, if not months before the results became available,” says Dr. Kees van Maanen, of the Netherlands Health Service. “But, now with real-time PCR (when researchers can actually see what’s happening through a microscope) and other new rapid detection methods we can often diagnose diseases within days or hours.”

PRRS Outbreak  

Dr. Willie Loeffen, president of the European Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, used the example of the PRRSV infection in pigs and the recent appearance of the Schmallenberg virus in Europe to demonstrate how modern molecular techniques can help characterize new pig disease threats rapidly.

“It took four years of laborious work for us to characterize the cause of PRRS, but thanks to new sequencing technology, we only needed a few months to do the same for the Schmallenberg virus, he said. 

One of the biggest threats to animal health is thought to be the development of new types of pathogens, or the spread of diseases from one region to another. New technology gives the pig industry the ability to characterize these disease threats quickly and accurately and develop diagnostic tools to track the threat and assess management to provide added protection for producers and their animals. 

The next 20 years could see the biggest changes in the way we manage production animals in over 100 years – and pig producers need to be at the forefront of the new methods as they remain the first line of defense.