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Scientists investigate disease causing sudden death in North American pig herds

Scientists with the Universities of Saskatchewan and Minnesota are working to better understand an emerging disease that's caused sudden death of pigs in western Canada and the US Midwest.

29 October 2019, at 9:00am

Streptococcus zooepidemicus (Strep zoo) has been reported in western Canada and the Midwestern United States and has been identified as a potential emerging disease concern in North America.

Speaking to Farmscape, Dr Matheus Costa, an Adjunct Professor with the University of Saskatchewan's Western College of Veterinary Medicine and an Assistant Professor with the University of Minnesota, says this bacteria is actually part of the normal microbiome of pigs so, why it's appearing and why it's being associated with outbreaks of sudden death, isn't fully understood.

"Strep zoo is a commensal of the upper respiratory tract," explains Dr Costa, "it normally lives in the tonsils and nasal cavity of healthy animals. It does not need to be associated with disease every time.

"We don't fully understand what triggers it but what we're seeing here is a very specific kind of Strep zoo that seem to be very aggressive towards pigs. We don't fully understand why. We're just starting to figure out what's going on here.

"One of the interesting aspects of Strep zoo is that it will infect many different species and many different hosts and some of them seem to be more susceptible or some of them seem to be less susceptible.

"In pigs what we are observing is sudden death in adult animals. The few cases we have had so far are associated with sows and gilts so we're not seeing anything related to younger animals and it's sudden death so there's no previous signs."

Dr Costa says, because this is a normal bug of the respiratory tract, it's typically not the first suspect in a case of sudden death which is likely playing down the numbers. He says scientists are working to better understand the organism and how this certain more aggressive type of Strep zoo can be detected and contained.