Rotavirus infections lower weaned-pig weights by a pound

Rotavirus infections in pigs have been around for decades. But in the last several years, the virus has re-appeared, causing diarrhea in neonatal and post-weaned pigs that impedes their growth for life.

“Rotavirus persists in the environment, including the sow, and with different subtypes, and unfortunately, there’s no cross protection,” reported Cary Sexton, DVM, veterinarian with Four Star Veterinary Service, in Kinston, North Carolina.

Sexton works with many sow farms that find rotavirus an aggravating problem in neonatal pigs.

“We are definitely seeing more viral disease in general and diarrhea specifically in the first week post-farrowing,” he said. “Luckily, we don’t see a lot of mortality, just morbidity. But if producers have a minimum criteria for weight, reaching it can be an issue.”

Cost of rotavirus

Rotavirus diarrhea can cause at least a pound of weight loss per pig at weaning, according to Sexton.

“They are not maximizing their genetic potential,” he said. “Rotavirus causes a drag on pigs. It also creates a bigger disparity between the top and bottom pigs in a group.

“We can also see a 2% higher reject rate with uncontrolled rotavirus…due to pig loss from thriftiness.”

Correct diagnosis

Because there are several subtypes of rotaviruses and other potential pathogens, Sexton stresses that producers should first obtain a diagnosis using correct sample types. Rotavirus A and C are most commonly found, but porcine epidemic diarrhea and delta coronavirus also show up frequently.

Rotavirus is preventable through sow vaccinations that produce maternal immunity in the baby pigs. Rotavirus B and C have limited vaccine options and, therefore, tend to be the hardest to control. Some research has looked at using feedback for developing immunity to rotavirus but with varied results.

Environment, management

Environmental strategies like cleaning, disinfecting and drying farrowing rooms can help reduce diarrhea caused by rotavirus but won’t eliminate it. Rotaviruses continue to persist in the environment, even with disinfectants. But thorough cleaning will reduce the viral load.

Proper sow and pig management also helps reduce the impact of C and other rotaviruses.

“Day 1 care is very important,” Sexton said. “Farrowing is one of the most stressful days for a pig. It needs to be dry, warm and the pig has the opportunity to ingest colostrum. Having the mother more comfortable increases the chances of success, too.”

He recommends minimal handling of the pigs during the first few days. “We get the pigs evened out by teat space in the first 24 hours and then leave them alone,” he said. “We don’t want people touching them until processing, which is between 5 to 7 days.”

If the diarrhea is not treatable, Sexton recommends supportive care with electrolytes to keep pigs hydrated, and make sure the sow maintains appetite and drinks adequate water.

“We’ve had some frustrations with rotavirus,” he said. “You can do different things, but you will never eliminate it. You need to evaluate how the pigs are getting the exposure and make changes in your operation to reduce its impact.”




COVID-19 prompts hog farms, veterinary clinics to limit contact for workers’ health

The disease causing the greatest concern in the pork industry today is not a swine disease but a human one — coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

As this nasty respiratory illness spreads throughout the US, pork producers and veterinarians realize the devastating impact it could have on a hog farm if the workforce becomes sick.

Fortunately, many producers can use the lessons learned from another coronavirus that affected their business. Eight years ago, porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) prompted many hog farms to improve biosecurity and prevent future outbreaks of PED.

“Swine producers already have a pretty good grasp on biosecurity,” reported Brad Schmitt, DVM, veterinarian with Four Star Veterinary Service, Rushville, Indiana. “They’ve been doing this kind of thing for years.

“But we have to stay vigilant because if one [employee] has it, it’s not long before others get it, and there will be a labor shortage,” he added.

Social distancing at work

A number of new procedures are being implemented on many hog farms to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees.

Social distancing is probably the most popular one used to limit contact with other workers. Employees take turns on breaks and remain 6 feet away from each other, according to Brittney Scales, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service in Mexico, Indiana. One farm added a breakroom to help provide more space for social distancing.

“Employees also are encouraged to stay home if sick,” Scales said. “Some farms have a system that if an employee becomes sick and needs to stay home, they will be paid as usual for up to 3 weeks. After that, the policy will be reviewed.”

Some farms ask employees to check their own temperature before showering into a hog facility. If they have a fever, they are asked to stay home for 2 weeks.

“Clients are doing the best they can to continue to do business as normal as possible and to provide for their employees,” Scales added. “First and foremost, they want to keep everyone healthy.”

Veterinarian-client interactions

Swine veterinary clinics also initiated biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees.

“In the large-animal practice, the first thing we put into place was lock the front door and post a phone number for clients to call and place an order,” noted Daniel Hendrickson, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Clinic in Farmland, Indiana. “We bring orders out to them.

“We’ve slowed down our visits to farms, too,” he continued “We aren’t doing regular, monthly herd checks unless something major is going on. But we are still doing necessary surgery.”

Hendrickson also is involved with a small-animal practice, and they eliminated client visits to the office, too. Technicians dressed in personal protective equipment pick up pets from client vehicles and bring the pets into the office for a check-up. If there are concerns, the veterinarian will go to the car and visit with the owner.

Hendrickson has noticed some clients are concerned about COVID-19 affecting animal supplies. “We are seeing some clients keep a couple weeks ahead of supplies, more because of what may happen if distribution companies become short-staffed,” he added.

Move to telemedicine

COVID-19 is forcing some veterinarians to use telemedicine with clients, Scales said. Clients send photos and video of their animals’ health issues and veterinarians try to determine treatments. It’s one way to prevent the spread of both human and animal disease.

When Scales does go to a farm, she wears a mask and personal protection equipment. But visits are getting fewer.

“We are still doing the health VCPR (veterinarian-client-patient relationship), but the rules are relaxed some to help get through this time,” Scales explained.

“Clients are doing the best they can to continue to do business as normal and to provide for their employees,” she added. “And first and foremost, they want to keep everyone healthy.”

More information

To find more information about strategies to handle COVID-19 in hog operations, visit and click on the COVID-19 Resources for Pork Producers page.

Included on this resource page are many links for answers about labor regulations, stay-at-home orders by state and documents to help plan for a COVID-19 outbreak. It also includes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for preventing COVID-19.