Impact of nurse sows on influenza A virus transmission in pigs under field conditions

Piglets prior to weaning play a central role in maintaining influenza infections in breeding herds and the use of nurse sows is a common practice to adopt piglets that fall behind and that otherwise would die. Transmission of influenza A virus (IAV) from nurse sows to adopted pigs has been reported experimentally, however, the importance of this route of transmission under field conditions has not yet been elucidated. A cohort study to assess the IAV status in nurse and control sows and their respective litters was carried out in three influenza positive breed-to-wean farms. A total of 94 control and 90 nurse sows were sampled by collecting udder skin wipes and oral swabs at enrollment (similar to 5-7 days after farrowing) and at weaning. Six piglets per litter were sampled randomly at enrollment, 2 days post-enrollment (DPE), 4 DPE, at day 14 of lactation (14DL) and at weaning. At enrollment, 76 % (69/91) of udder wipes and 3 % (3/89) of oral swabs from nurse sows were positive by rRT-PCR compared with 23 % (21/92) of udder wipes and 0 % (0/85) of oral swabs from control sows. Of the 94 control litters sampled, 11.7 %, 14.9 %, 22.9 %, 46.8 % and 63.9 % tested rRT-PCR IAV positive at enrollment, 2DPE, 4DPE, 14 DL and weaning, respectively. Corresponding prevalence for nurse sow litters were 12.2 %, 30.2 %, 37.0 %, 59.4 % and 56.4 %. The odds of IAV positivity were significantly higher (p < 0.05) for litters from nurse sows 2 DPE (odd ratio (OR) = 6.13, 95 % CI = 1.8-21.2), 4 DPE (OR = 5.5, 95 % CI = 1.7-17.8) and 14 DL (OR = 3.7, 95 % CI = 1.1-12.3). However, there were no differences in the proportion of positive samples at weaning. Moreover, approximately 18 % of the control sows and 11 % of nurse sows that tested IAV negative in oral swabs at enrollment, tested IAV positive at weaning. This study indicates that nurse sows can contribute to the transmission and perpetuation of IAV infections in pigs prior to weaning, particularly during the first week after adoption.

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