Bird flu caused some major issues for the poultry industry last winter with movement restrictions and horrible scenes of culling. But why is pig flu not taken as seriously? Well firstly, and fortunately, it doesn’t cause such high levels of mortality, and secondly it is already very common in the UK pig herd. So why do some people have problems with it, and others do not?
The ‘unstable’ virus
Influenza (the virus which causes flu) is quite an ‘unstable’ virus which often mutates making new strains. You get a different level of illness with each strain. Also, just because a pig has been exposed to flu before doesn’t mean it will be protected against a different strain. This is a bit like when we have a cold virus: some knock you sideways and you feel like death warmed up, and another will just give you a bit of a sniffle. And just because you have fought off one cold, doesn’t mean you will be immune to the next!
As with us and our colds, some flu strains can just give pigs a bit of a cough, and some can make them appear very ill, lethargic, not eat, and you might even see abortions and fertility issues. So what can you do to treat and prevent flu? Well unfortunately once it is in a herd you cannot treat it directly, only treat the symptoms and secondary diseases (bacterial pneumonias etc.) Prevention is by far the best method, and this is mostly achieved by good biosecurity, the aim of which is to stop new strains from getting in.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
The “Best” way for flu to get onto your farm is a new pig entering your herd. This is why you must put incoming stock into isolation, preferably as far away from your farm as possible – some flu has been shown to travel more than 2km on the wind! Birds can also carry pig flu, so make sure your buildings are as bird proof as possible. Good standards of biosecurity are your best defence! Another option is to vaccinate; vaccination can work very well, but only if they provide protection against the particular strain you are having issues with – this is why you must get your vet to sample and identify the type of flu strain you have on the farm to help you choose the right vaccine.
Another way flu can get into a pig herd is via people; all staff should get an annual vaccination against flu (from the doctor, not the vet!). Just imagine if one of the pig-men should pass on man-flu to the pigs…That would surely be a disease of major severity!
For further information please contact Zoetis UK Limited, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Tadworth, Surrey KT20 7NS. www.zoetis.co.uk Customer Support: 0845 300 8034. Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible). Date of preparation: August 2017. AH551.17