PIG FARMERS are being urged to be vigilant following an outbreak of swine dysentery in the north-east of Scotland.

The disease hadn’t been detected in Scotland for five years, until two months ago when routine testing revealed its presence – in a very mild form – in several pig businesses with trading links, located along the coast between Elgin and Fraserburgh.

Although not a notifiable disease, and of no threat to public health, the Scottish pig sector's own voluntary industry notification system kicked in, and while the affected businesses dealt with the infection via antibiotic treatment, the rest of the country's pig farmers have been encouraged to monitor their farms for any signs of loose dung and to limit the number of vehicles and pigs coming on site.

Scottish Pig Producers chief executive Andy McGowan said that the outbreak had proven to be a useful test of that self-notifying system, as it was the first time it had been triggered since its introduction was agreed.

“There have been no further cases confirmed in the past two or three weeks so we hope that the outbreak has been contained and once we can clear it out, we can get back to normal. The last time we saw a case of swine dysentery it was much more serious, and we can confirm that there will be no impact at the consumer end," said Mr McGowan.

“There is scientific research being carried out into the genotype of the bacteria carrying the disease so we can begin to work out where it has come from,” he continued. “We know it is spread by physical transfer as opposed to an airborne disease, so we are urging pig keepers to minimise vehicles and pigs coming on farm and to keep an eye open for loose dung and to notify your vet straight away. It is important that we flag up any concerns to others who may be at risk and ask for a rapid response from the industry to stamp this out as quickly as possible,” he stressed.

The Scottish Government’s chief vet Sheila Voas explained that swine dysentery was not a notifiable disease but emphasised that no pig herd was immune to the disease and all should be taking the necessary precautions.

“We would encourage pig producers to be sensible and do appropriate tests before bringing pigs on to their premises. Don’t share equipment with other farms unless thoroughly disinfected as the disease will spread via manure from affected to un-affected pigs," said Ms Voas.

“Like any disease it could lead to a reduction in productivity, but the effects will be felt locally on the infected farms not on the wider pig industry,” she assured.

NFUS pig committee convenor Jamie Wyllie stressed what precautions have been taken so far to contain the outbreak: “The industry has been made aware and hauliers have all been written too or spoken too, to stress the need for cleaning and disinfecting lorries after use. One haulier has supplied small disinfectant bottles and is spraying their wagon wheels, lorry steps and boots before entering farm.

“This is very good practice and should be copied across the board. Biosecurity rules on farm must continue to be enforced; do not let people who have been in contact with other pigs into your buildings or other areas where staff or pigs will be crossing – they can be carrying disease on their clothes, footwear etc. Don’t visit pigs then re-enter your own herd unless you know the disease status of that herd. Make sure all lorries are clean before loading animals and don’t allow animals or people to enter the lorry then return to the farm,” he urged.