BPEX-sponsored student gives oral fluid sampling long-term boost

Oral fluid sampling is a stress-free way to monitor herd disease levels, when using cotton rope for pigs to chew, according to BPEX-sponsored PhD student, Lorna Dawson.

Having just completed a three-year research project, Ms Dawson says her initial research results are encouraging, pointing towards oral fluid sampling providing a “low-cost, non-invasive method to assess the health status of pigs”.

Working from the starting point that disease diagnosis in pigs is relatively expensive and laborious, being dependent on individual blood samples and laboratory tests, she set about collecting oral fluid samples by suspending a cotton rope over a pen for the pigs to chew. 

Using methods initially established at Iowa State University, Ms Dawson said she was able to “screen more animals than was physically possible when carrying out blood sampling”.

Deposited oral fluid samples where then checked for specific disease markers such as viral RNA and antibodies, thus allowing the early diagnosis of specific diseases at the subclinical or clinical stage.

“This suggests that the use of oral fluid is potentially a feasible, low cost, non-invasive way to assess the disease status in pig populations,” said Ms Dawson.  “More importantly, this is a welfare-friendly means of monitoring disease, working towards better productivity and profitability.”

The primary aim of the research was to develop an oral fluid diagnostic test for the detection of European strains of PRRSv and Salmonella infection in herds.

Ms Dawson said that while further work is required before this technology can be put into full use across the industry, she believed preliminary findings were “really encouraging” and that, in the longer term, the use of oral fluid diagnostics could provide a tool to benchmark herd health status and performance.

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