Oral fluid sampling will offer UK pig producers a stress-free way to monitor herd disease levels, using cotton rope for pigs to chew.
Initial research results are encouraging and point towards oral fluid sampling providing a low-cost, non-invasive method to assess the health status of pigs, says Lorna Dawson, a BPEX-sponsored PhD student, who has recently completed her three-year research project.
Current diagnosis of infectious disease in the country's pig population is relatively expensive and laborious. Individual blood samples are taken from a small sample of the population and tested in the laboratory.
"By collecting oral fluid samples I could screen more animals than was physically possible when carrying out blood sampling," says Dawson.
Sample collection was performed by suspending a cotton rope over a pen for the pigs to chew, using methods initially established at Iowa State University.
Deposited oral fluid samples where then checked for specific disease markers such as viral RNA and antibodies, thus allowing the early diagnosis of specific diseases at the subclinical or clinical stage.
"This suggests that the use of oral fluid is potentially a feasible, low cost, non-invasive way to assess the disease status in pig populations," says Dawson.
"More importantly, this is a welfare-friendly means of monitoring disease, working towards better productivity and profitability."
The primary aim of the research was to develop an oral fluid diagnostic test for the detection of European strains of PRRSv and Salmonella infection in herds.
Lorna says that further work is required before this technology can be put into full use across the industry. But she wants to highlight that the preliminary findings are really encouraging.
In the longer term the use of oral fluid diagnostics could provide a tool to benchmark herd health status and performance.