Vet: Are your pigs showing this disease syndrome?

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This year, I have come across many first-time cases than in any other time in my 30-year career. I have seen four of them in the last half of the year.

First, there was the case of “peeing” chickens. Last month, I had a case of a dog with excessive production of red blood cells.

Another one had bone cancer of the sternum that resulted in all the ribs becoming paper-thin and highly breakable.

The close of the year is now giving me a complex case on which I am yet to make the confirmatory diagnosis. Last Sunday evening, my friend and client Kariuki from Kiambu reported he had an unusual disease occurrence on his pig farm.

He said he wanted me to visit the following day because he felt the issue required my physical attention.

I had not been on the farm for the past months of the year because Kariuki has very able veterinary paraprofessionals (paravets) providing him with the day-to-day management of the farm.


In most cases, telephone consultations are adequate to deal with animal health issues beyond the paravets’ expertise. I always work to build this kind of operational coordination, especially on pig and poultry farms to manage the cost of animal health services and ensure readily available quality services.

Kariuki’s farm has about 800 pigs in various stages of production. Two paravets, Jane and Paul, manage the farm.

His description of the problem prompted me to engage the disease investigation mode. The happenings sounded unusual based on the cases I have seen on Kenyan pig farms.

I called the main laboratories, both private and public, to find out whether they would be able to handle analysis of samples should I need to collect some in my investigation. Unfortunately, none had the capacity to analyse for some of the diseases that could cause the situation on the farm.

I visited the farm on Monday this week with my colleague, Dr Veronica. At the entrance, we cleaned our hands and disinfected the gumboots before proceeding to the animal compound.


Kariuki’s farm was very clean from the outset and had many functional biosecurity measures such as fencing and multiple appropriately placed footbaths.

We met Kariuki, Jane and Paul in the animal compound and they gave us the full account of the disease outbreak. It was clear the farm situation was a syndromic occurrence rather than just one disease.

A syndrome is a set of medical signs and symptoms and collection of diseases. They may not be correlated with each other but are often associated with a particular disease or disorder.

Kariuki’s farm had a disease situation with a plethora of signs and outcomes. The pigs had started getting sick three weeks earlier.

The disease mainly affected pregnant gilts and sows. Initially, they would appear slow in movement, reduce appetite and then stop eating. The temperature would rise to between 40 and 41 degrees Centigrade before dropping later to below normal.

A few days after throwing a fever, the pigs would either abort or give birth some days before term. This is medically called early farrowing where the pigs may die or survive depending on how close they were to term, how strong they are and the management.

After the fever, the pigs’ ears and underside of the belly would become reddened and then turn purple. Medically, this is called hyperaemia and cyanosis, meaning that there was reduced oxygen in the blood. The areas that become visibly cyanotic are those with a large network of blood vessels and blood supply.

The affected early farrowing pigs were giving birth to some apparently normal piglets, some very weak, others stillbirths at different stages of development while others were mummified and deformed. A single birth could contain all the categories.

One pig had given birth to five live pigs with three strong and two very weak and small ones. One piglet was deformed with spraying legs, three had died fully mature while another two at around three months of pregnancy. Most of the early farrowing pigs would quickly run out of milk within the first three days of farrowing.


Most of the piglets born out of the disease syndrome died within the first two weeks of life. Some of the mothers would proceed to have uterine infection.

Some pigs with the syndrome developed severe difficulties in breathing, below normal temperature and then died. In the last three weeks, four pigs had died despite treatment with antibiotics.

A doctor called to carry out post-mortem diagnosed pneumonia. The question was why was the outbreak not responding to antibiotics?

“Doctor, could we be dealing with African swine fever?” Paul asked as we finalised the tour of the pens. I explained to him I would respond after performing post-mortem on the dead sow.

Post-mortem examination revealed a severe bacterial infection throughout the body generating lots of pus in the uterus, abdominal and chest cavities.

The heart was hardly recognisable while the lungs were strongly attached to the rib cage. I determined the source of the infection was the uterus.

I confirmed to Kariuki and his team that their problem was not African swine fever but I still did not have an answer to what it exactly was until I was to do a laboratory analysis that was not available in the country.

You see, some viruses are known to infect swine especially pregnant ones and cause the kind of syndrome on Kariuki’s farm but the most probable culprit has not been reported in Kenya. For that reason, I am unable to mention my suspect.

In the meantime, in line with conventional protocols of dealing with unidentified disease outbreaks, I advised Kariuki and his team to implement detailed disease control and containment measures to ensure the disease does not spread within and outside the farm is highly limited.

I have also compiled a report to the veterinary authorities as required. If you have seen such a syndrome on any pig farm in the country, please let me know on email or 0721386871.

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