Iowa State University veterinary researchers are working on developing improved methods for diagnosing swine dysentery, a disease which has re-emerged in recent years with increasing case numbers since 2003, according to the university.

The university veterinary diagnostic laboratory said it identified more than 100 cases in 2011, and 2012 seems to be tracking closely with those totals. Some possible causes for the re-emergence include changes in feeding practices that impact the intestinal microenvironment in pigs, changing genetics among herds or an emerging co-pathogen along with the bacteria that causes the disease, said Dr. Eric Burrough, an assistant professor in the Iowa State University Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine.


Burrough also said the researchers have identified a newly emergent bacterial source which shares the genus of the classic swine dysentery bacteria but is not the same species. This new bacteria causes the same symptoms and is treated the same way, but the current tools used to identify swine dysentery can't detect it. “What we’re looking for is a more rapid diagnostic tool to identify both the classic bacteria and potentially novel strains that could cause swine dysentery,” said Burrough. “Until we find a method to screen for virulence with a faster turnaround, culturing will likely remain the most reliable means of confirming a diagnosis of this disease.” 

Swine dysentery is preventable through biosecurity measures, said the researchers, whereas treating it can be a costly proposition. “The bottom line is you don’t want your herd to be contaminated, and you can’t afford it,” said Dr. James McKean, a university professor and associate director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center.