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Greasy pig disease (Exudative epidermitis)

This disease affects all ages. The key clinical signs are dark patches of flaking, greasy skin caused by bacterial infection. Toxins produced by bacteria can cause death.

Background and history

This is caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus hyicus which invades abraded skin causing infection. The Staphylococcus produces toxins which are absorbed into the system and damage the liver and kidneys. The disease is also called exudative epidermitis which describes the oozing of fluid from the inflamed skin. In the sucking piglet disease is usually confined to individual animals, but it can be a major problem in new gilt herds and weaned pigs.

It has been shown recently that during the days immediately preceding farrowing the bacterium multiples profusely in the sows vagina. Piglets are frequently infected during the birth process or soon after. The sharp eye teeth often damage the cheeks during competition for a teat, or the knees are traumatised when seeking to suck milk. These may trigger the disease. In severe cases where the liver becomes damaged the piglet will die. Often only 50 percent of piglets affected during suckling will survive.

Clinical signs

These usually commence with small, dark, localised areas of infection around the face or on the legs, where the skin has been damaged. The skin along the flanks the belly and between the legs changes to a brown colour gradually involving the whole of the body. The skin becomes wrinkled with flaking of large areas and it has a greasy feel. A more localised picture is seen if the sow has passed some immunity to the piglet, with small circumscribed lesions approximately 5-10mm in diameter that do not spread.

In weaned pigs disease may appear two to three days after weaning with a slight browning of the skin that progresses to a dark greasy texture and in severe cases the skin turns black. Such cases usually die due to the toxins produce by the staphylococci organisms. In nurseries up to 15 percent of the population may be involved.

Sows

  • Uncommon but localised lesions may be seen particularly behind the face and eyes.

Piglets

  • Severely affected piglets will die.
  • Localised lesions on the flanks and behind ears. Lesions usually commence with small, dark, localised areas of infection around the face or on the legs.
  • The skin along the flanks the belly and between the legs changes to a brown colour gradually involving the whole of the body.
  • The skin becomes wrinkled with flaking of large areas and it has a greasy feel.
  • In severe cases the skin turns black due to necrosis and the piglets die.
  • A more localised picture is seen if the sow has passed some immunity to the piglet, with small circumscribed lesions approximately 5-10mm in diameter that do not spread.

Weaners and growers

  • Usually commence about three days after weaning with localised, brown areas of infection or dermatitis around the face or on the legs, where the skin has been damaged. It may ulcerate.
  • The skin along the flanks the belly and between the legs changes to a brown colour gradually involving the whole of the body.
  • The skin becomes wrinkled with flaking of large areas.
  • It progresses to a dark greasy texture and in severe cases turns black.
  • Such cases usually die due to the toxins produce by the staphylococci organisms.
  • In nurseries up to 15 percent of the population may be involved.
  • Dehydration is common.

Diagnosis

This is based on the characteristic skin lesions. In an outbreak it is important to culture the organism and carry out an antibiotic sensitivity test. A moist wet area should be identified, the overlying scab removed and a swab rubbed well into the infected area. This should be returned to the laboratory in transport medium to arrive as soon as possible, certainly within 24 hours.

Causes

  • The sharp eye teeth cut the skin around the mouth during competition for a teat.
  • Abrasions on the knees from sucking may also trigger it off.
  • Abrasions from poor concrete surfaces or metal floors, side panels.
  • Faulty procedures for iron injections, removing tails and teeth.
  • Fighting and skin trauma at weaning.
  • Mange giving rise to skin damage.
  • Damage to the face by metal feeding troughs can precipitate disease.
  • Abnormal behaviour: tail biting, ear biting, navel sucking, flank biting.
  • Badly clipped teeth at birth.

Prevention

  • Examine the pigs to see where abrasions are taking place. For example, these may be arising from new concrete surfaces or rough metal floors.
  • If concrete surfaces are poor, brush these over after cleaning with hydrated lime that contains a phenol disinfectant.
  • Check the procedures for removing tails and teeth. Jagged edges of teeth can damage the gums leading to infection around the cheeks particularly when piglets fight for teat access and during mixing after weaning.
  • The skin of the udder is one reservoir of infection. This should be sprayed daily three days before and after farrowing with a iodine based skin antiseptic (cow teat dip is ideal).
  • Disinfect floors well between farrowing.
  • Make sure that sharp needles are used for iron injections and change these regularly between litters.
  • If mange is present in the herd treat the sow prior to entering the farrowing house.
  • Extremes of humidity and wet pens can encourage the multiplication of the bacteria.
  • Metal floors and side panels, in particular woven metal flooring, can cause severe abrasions particularly around the feet and legs. In such cases the first signs of greasy pig will be in these areas. Damage to the face by metal feeding troughs can precipitate disease.
  • Check the humidity of the weaning accommodation. High levels above 70 percent and high temperatures provide an ideal environment for the multiplication of the bacteria on the skin.
  • Adopt an all-in all-out policy in the weaning accommodation. Have the pens bacteriologically checked after they have been washed out and disinfected.

Treatment

  • Determine the antibiotic sensitivity and inject affected piglets daily for five days, or on alternate days with a long-acting antibiotic to which the organism is sensitive to.
  • Antibiotics include: amoxycillin, OTC, ceftiofur, cephalexin, gentamycin, lincomycin or penicillin.
  • Topical application of antibiotics can also be of use. Novobiocin, an antibiotic used for treating mastitis in dairy cows, can be mixed with mineral oil and sprayed onto the skin or the piglets dipped into a solution of it.
  • Piglets become very dehydrated and should be offered electrolytes by mouth.
  • Ensure there are no mange problems in the herd. The mange mites damage the skin and allow Staphylococcus hyicus to enter.
  • Long-acting injections can be given two to three days before the first signs are likely to appear as a method of prevention. Use either long-acting amoxycillin or oxytetracyclin if indicated.
  • In severe outbreaks an autogenous vaccine can be prepared from the organism and sows injected twice, four and two weeks prior to farrowing to raise immunity in the colostrum. This has proved successful on a number of farms where disease has appeared in both the sucking and weaned pigs.
  • If the problem is occurring in gilt litters, cross suckling these piglets using older sows at birth for four or five hours can be of value.