As youth involved in the swine exhibition industry start to prepare for the show season, it is important that they understand how to protect their animals, protect the public that attend exhibitions and protect their fairs from the consequences of disease. Disease can spread quickly when pigs from different areas are comingled at events like county fairs and jackpot shows. As an exhibitor it is your responsibility to prepare your pigs for the disease risks they might be exposed to when comingling happens. Taking the proper precautions will increase the likelihood that your pigs will be unaffected or less affected when they come into contact with a disease like swine influenza.
Swine influenza (SIV) is a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza virus. This zoonotic disease is contagious among pigs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some strains have been reported to infect the human population – specifically in 2009 and most recently with a mild outbreak in the summer of 2012. Influenza can be characterized in swine by clinical signs such as coughing, fever, sneezing and lethargic acting animals. Swine can also be asymptomatic, which means that you may not notice that your pig is sick. This disease typically runs its course in approximately 3 to 7 days and has no effect on the meat quality or safety of the meat produced.
The spread of swine influenza is decreased by using preventative measures such as good biosecurity, proper management practices and a vaccination program. Commercially made vaccines are available for swine influenza and may be obtained from your veterinarian. Their effectiveness against influenza disease varies, but in general, Michigan State University Extension recommends using them as a tool to help your animal respond better to an influenza challenge. Studies have shown that pigs receiving the SIV vaccination have decreased severity and clinical signs when exposed to the virus. Other research documents that vaccinated pigs have less viral excretion and increased clinical protection.
For exhibitors, this means that vaccinating your pigs against influenza will help keep them healthy when they come into contact with other potentially sick pigs. As SIV particles change rapidly, vaccinations are not a means of elimination but rather a way to boost immunity against influenza and importantly to decrease clinical signs such as coughing to decrease the spread. Pigs should be vaccinated prior to exhibition or comingling with other animals using a vaccine from your local veterinarian. The correct vaccination time period is 4 weeks prior to the fair for a one dose vaccine product or at 6 weeks and 4 weeks prior to the exhibition if you are utilizing a two dose product. The typical cost of the SIV vaccine is around $2 but cost can vary dependent on the supplier of the vaccine and the number of animals that you are vaccinating. If producers want to protect their animal through the entire showing season, vaccine should be given when the pig is approximately 40 pounds.
Taking preventive measures to protect the health of your pigs and the people that come into contact with them is your responsibility as a member of the swine exhibition industry. By doing your part to help decrease the spread of disease and to promote good health and hygiene when exhibiting animals you can help create a better understanding of animal agriculture for the general public. More information about swine influenza, the proper precautions exhibitions should be taking to protect their event and vaccination protocols can be found by contacting a member of the Michigan State University pork working group; Beth Ferry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-445-4430, Tom Guthrie at email@example.com or 269-788-4292 or Madonna Benjamin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-614-8875.