Influenza epidemiology in breed-to-wean farms and infection dynamics in nursery pigs

Fabian Chamba portrait photoEarlier this year, Dr. Fabian Chamba Pardo successfully defended his PhD under the supervision of Drs. Montse Torremorell and Marie Culhane. The focus of his thesis is influenza epidemiology with an emphasis on sow farms and nurseries. We share with you today a summary of his work.


Influenza is an economically important disease in pigs and a public health threat. Breed-to-wean (BTW) farms play a central role in influenza epidemiology and control because piglets maintain and disseminate influenza A virus (IAV) to other farms. Despite the importance of piglets in influenza epidemiology, there is limited information on IAV infection parameters in piglets, risk factors that impact IAV prevalence in piglets at weaning, and how strategies that are implemented in BTW farms affect IAV infections in weaned pigs.


In this thesis, my goal was to address some of the questions that are central to the transmission and control of influenza in BTW farms, especially infection in piglets ready to wean. The questions addressed are also critical to guide control strategies to mitigate IAV infections in the post weaning period. More specifically, I aimed to: 1) estimate herd-level prevalence and seasonality of influenza in BTW farms, 2) evaluate farm factors associated with IAV infection in piglets at weaning, 3) assess transmission patterns and parameters of influenza in nursery pigs based on IAV prevalence at weaning, and 4) evaluate the impact of maternally-derived antibodies (MDA) at weaning on IAV infection parameters in nursery pigs.

Research Chapter 1

Influenza herd-level prevalence and seasonality in breed-to-wean pig farms in the Midwestern United States

Article published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science:

Results showed that IAV herd-level prevalence in piglets at weaning from Midwestern BTW farms is seasonal with higher infection rates in winter (December) and spring (May) than those in summer and fall. Additionally, influenza seasonality was partially explained by the seasonal variations of outdoor air absolute humidity and temperature. Finally, there was significant genetic diversity of influenza strains circulating in those farms and that, co-circulation of more than one genetically distinct clade over time was very common in the studied farms. This is critical knowledge that may help to identify high risk periods where influenza control measures can be placed. It may also help to create research opportunities on absolute humidity and influenza transmission in pigs and finally, it supports other studies that have shown that genetic diversity and circulation is wide and common and that new vaccines and vaccination strategies should take that into consideration.

Chamba herd level influenza prevalence in the Midwest
Influenza A virus herd-level prevalence in Midwestern US breed-to-wean pig farms.

Research Chapter 2

Breed-to-wean farm factors associated with influenza A virus infection in piglets at weaning

In this chapter, there were 24 farm factors evaluated for their association with influenza at weaning and among those, only IAV sow vaccination and the IAV-negative status of replacement breeding females (gilts) at entry to the herd were significantly associated with less IAV infected piglets at weaning. This is critical information that veterinarians and producers may use to manage IAV levels at weaning. In addition, there was also a lack of significant association with factors such as air filtration and farm density which may be indicative that endemic influenza infections are more important than airborne lateral transmissions between farms. Finally, disease control strategies such as herd closure, early weaning, batch farrowing, gilt isolation and gilt influenza vaccination were not fully evaluated in this study. Hence, more work is needed to further understand how to use these strategies to decrease influenza infections in pigs.

sow vac protocol - Copy
Influenza A virus (IAV) positive mean predicted probabilities over time for breed-to-wean farms with different sow vaccination protocols.

 Research Chapter 3

Influenza A virus transmission patterns and parameters in growing pigs

Results indicate that groups of piglets with different prevalence at weaning had different transmission patterns and parameters after weaning and these patterns were characterized by 1, 2 or no peaks of infection after weaning. Piglets with low prevalence at weaning had less influenza infections in the nursery. This information may help producers and veterinarians to make informed decisions when it comes to use control strategies such as sow vaccination aimed to reduce influenza infections in the nursery.

Figure 1

Research Chapter 4

Effect of maternally-derived antibodies on influenza A virus infection in growing pigs

In my last chapter, I reported that if pigs had high levels of strain-specific maternally-derived antibodies at weaning, IAV infection occurred later and it was of shorter duration after weaning. Piglets with hemagglutination inhibition (HI) titers of 1:40 or higher were less likely to test IAV positive at weaning and during the nursery. These results indicate that strain-specific maternally-derived antibodies generated with sow vaccination pre-farrow significantly reduce influenza infections at weaning and in the nursery.

Figure 1 (1)


Knowledge of influenza seasonality and what factors are significantly associated with influenza in breed-to-wean farms can help producers and veterinarians to better use and allocate influenza control strategies such as sow vaccination. In addition, lower prevalence of influenza at weaning due to high strain-specific maternally-derived antibodies levels may help decrease influenza spread from wean-to-finish farms. Reducing the burden of influenza in growing pigs should decrease influenza-associated economic losses and the generation of novel strains, including strains with pandemic potential. More studies are needed to further elucidate control strategies to limit influenza infections and spread in pigs.

Beneficial but variable effect of vaccination to control Salmonella in pigs

In this meta-analysis conducted by the Center for Veterinary Health Surveillance (Madrid, Spain) in collaboration with Drs. Conrado, Perez, and Alvarez from the University of Minnesota, the efficacy of vaccination to control Salmonella infection in pigs was evaluated. The meta-analysis reviewed a total of 44 studies focusing on Salmonella typhimurium or Salmonella choleraesuis. Included protocols were using either inactivated (killed) or live-attenuated vaccines.

Results showed that both vaccine types had a similar efficacy and that the most successful control strategies among the ones reviewed were using killed vaccines to control Salmonella choleraesuis.

Alvarez swine salmonella vaccine 2017

Abstract: Consumption or handling of improperly processed or cooked pork is considered one of the top sources for foodborne salmonellosis, a common cause of intestinal disease worldwide. Asymptomatic carrier pigs may contaminate pork at slaughtering; therefore, pre-harvest reduction of Salmonella load can contribute to reduce public health risk. Multiple studies have evaluated the impact of vaccination on controlling Salmonella in swine farms, but results are highly variable due to the heterogeneity in vaccines and vaccination protocols. Here, we report the results of an inclusive systematic review and a meta-analysis of the peer-reviewed scientific literature to provide updated knowledge on the potential effectiveness of Salmonella vaccination. A total of 126 articles describing the use of Salmonella vaccines in swine were identified, of which 44 fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Most of the studies (36/44) used live vaccines, and S. Typhimurium and S. Choleraesuis were the predominant serotypes evaluated. Vaccine efficacy was most often measured through bacteriological isolation, and pooled estimates of vaccine efficacy were obtained as the difference in the percentage of positive animals when available. Attenuated and inactivated vaccines had similar efficacy [Risk Difference = − 26.8% (− 33.8, − 19.71) and − 29.5% (− 44.4, − 14.5), respectively]. No serotype effect was observed on the efficacy recorded for attenuated vaccines; however, a higher efficacy of inactivated vaccines against S. Choleraesuis was observed, though in a reduced sample.

Results from the meta-analysis here demonstrate the impact that vaccination may have on the control of Salmonella in swine farms and could help in the design of programs to minimize the risk of transmission of certain serotypes through the food chain.

Link to the full article

Reducing the likelihood of a piglet reservoir when dealing with influenza in swine herds

Drs. White, Torremorell and Craft from the University of Minnesota recently published an article in Preventative Veterinary Medicine regarding practices that can decrease the likelihood of creating an endemic piglet reservoir in the case of an infection by swine influenza. Indeed, a stochastic model was developed considering that the pigs were in one of the following categories: Susceptible, Exposed,  Infectious, Recovered, or Vaccinated. Loss of immunity over time and differences between naturally infected and vaccinated animals were taken into account. Several scenarios were evaluated regarding their impact on piglet prevalence: timing of gilt introductions, gilt separation, gilt vaccination upon arrival, early weaning, and sow vaccination strategies.

In this model, homologous mass vaccination and early weaning were the most efficacious interventions. By combining frequent homologous mass vaccination, early weaning, gilt separation, gilt vaccination and longer periods between gilt introductions reduced endemic prevalence overall by 51% relative to the null scenario and the endemic prevalence in piglets by 74%.


Abstract: Recent modelling and empirical work on influenza A virus (IAV) suggests that piglets play an important role as an endemic reservoir. The objective of this study is to test intervention strategies aimed at reducing the incidence of IAV in piglets and ideally, preventing piglets from becoming exposed in the first place. These interventions include biosecurity measures, vaccination, and management options that swine producers may employ individually or jointly to control IAV in their herds. We have developed a stochastic Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered-Vaccinated (SEIRV) model that reflects the spatial organization of a standard breeding herd and accounts for the different production classes of pigs therein. Notably, this model allows for loss of immunity for vaccinated and recovered animals, and for vaccinated animals to have different latency and infectious periods from unvaccinated animals as suggested by the literature. The interventions tested include: (1) varied timing of gilt introductions to the breeding herd, (2) gilt separation (no indirect transmission to or from the gilt development unit), (3) gilt vaccination upon arrival to the farm, (4) early weaning, and (5) vaccination strategies of sows with different timing (mass and pre-farrow) and efficacy (homologous vs. heterologous). We conducted a Latin Hypercube Sampling and Partial Rank Correlation Coefficient (LHS-PRCC) analysis combined with random forest analysis to assess the relative importance of each epidemiological parameter in determining epidemic outcomes. In concert, mass vaccination, early weaning of piglets (removal 0–7 days after birth), gilt separation, gilt vaccination, and longer periods between introductions of gilts (6 months) were the most effective at reducing prevalence. Endemic prevalence overall was reduced by 51% relative to the null case; endemic prevalence in piglets was reduced by 74%; and IAV was eliminated completely from the herd in 23% of all simulations. Importantly, elimination of IAV was most likely to occur within the first few days of an epidemic. The latency period, infectious period, duration of immunity, and transmission rate for piglets with maternal immunity had the highest correlation with three separate measures of IAV prevalence; therefore, these are parameters that warrant increased attention for obtaining empirical estimates. Our findings support other studies suggesting that piglets play a key role in maintaining IAV in breeding herds. We recommend biosecurity measures in combination with targeted homologous vaccination or vaccines that provide wider cross-protective immunity to prevent incursions of virus to the farm and subsequent establishment of an infected piglet reservoir.

Link to the full article