Frequently Asked Questions about Erysipelas

Vander Poel_ScottWhat is Erysipelas?

Swine erysipelas is a disease caused by a bacterial infection named Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. It has been around for well over one hundred years. It is important to remember that this bacterium can cause disease within your breeding herd, as well as your growing pigs. Although the prevalence is low in the industry, it can have significant impact on your production, health, and on the bottom line of your operation.

What are the symptoms?

This disease can present either in an acute or chronic form. There is no clear distinction between the two forms, but please note for population health there may be animals in different stages of disease within your herd. The clinical presentation for swine erysipelas in the acute form can be sudden death, lethargy, high fevers, severe lameness, and abortions.  These sick animals often have reddened discoloration of the skin, and in the classic cases the animals will show raised diamond shape lesions in the skin.

How can I prevent Erysipelas?

For the chronic form of swine erysipelas, clinical presentation includes swollen joints, sloughing of the discolored skin, and growths on the valves inside the heart. I was taught in school never to describe disease lesions with food descriptors. However, for producers willing to post their pigs, it is easiest to describe as a cauliflower growth on the inside of the heart.

No matter which form this disease may be presented, it is very important that you detect this disease as early as possible because treatment of this disease has a high rate of success. However, due to a significant withdrawal period on the treatment of choice, and the success of the vaccine, the overall long-term goal should be to stabilize and prevent disease through vaccination of your herd.

Like previously mentioned, vaccines can be very effective tools we have to control this disease. It can be administered either orally or as an injectable vaccine and that would depend on factors specific to your operations such as cost, labor, medication management, or equipment. For the sow populations, I always recommend that vaccine is given at least twice per year as risk management of your sow farm and downstream health. As for the growing animals, there multiple approaches; all groups receive vaccine or a seasonal approach where you only vaccinate to protect animals during the summer months. This latter vaccination strategy is due to a cost benefit analysis and seasonal disease pattern where it can be more prevalent in the summer months. Whatever your strategy may be, I would encourage you to have an overall goal to control this disease and prevent it from infecting other pigs.

How does it spread?

Swine erysipelas is spread when infected pigs shed these bacteria at high levels in their feces and contaminate their environment. Other pigs become infected when they ingest the infected feed, water, or feces, as well as have direct nose to nose contact with infected animals. Like many diseases, to reduce the risk of spreading this disease between barns you will need to have strict biosecurity protocols, thorough sanitation and disinfection protocols, all in/all out (AI/AO) site or room practices when able, vaccinate, and timely medication when needed.

If you are struggling on your operation with any of the clinical symptoms previously mentioned or are seeing the classic diamond shaped lesions, work with your veterinarian to develop a plan to identify and stabilize your herd from this disease. Again, when it comes to swine erysipelas and the long-term success of your operation, you can control and prevent this disease through strict biosecurity, hygiene protocols, vaccination, and medication when needed.

If you have any questions on Erysipelas, please contact your Pipestone Veterinary Services veterinarian.

Dr. Scott VanderPoel
Pipestone Veterinary Services