Since January 1 2013, group housing of sows has been compulsory within the European Union (EU) in all pig holdings with more than ten sows. Sows and gilts need to be kept in groups from 4 weeks after service to 1 week before the expected time of farrowing (Article 3(4) of Directive 2008/120/EC on the protection of pigs). The legislation regarding group housing was adopted already in 2001 and a long transitional period was allowed to give member states and producers enough time for adaptation. Even so, group housing of sows still seems to be uncommon in the EU, and is also uncommon in commercial pig farming systems in the rest of the world. In this review we share our experience of the Swedish 25 years of animal welfare legislation stipulating that sows must be loose-housed which de facto means group housed. The two most important concerns related to reproductive function among group-housed sows are the occurrence of lactational oestrus when sows are group-housed during lactation, and the stress that is associated with group housing during mating and gestation. Field and clinical observations in non-lactating, group-housed sows in Sweden suggest that by making basic facts known about the pig reproductive physiology related to mating, we might achieve application of efficient batch-wise breeding without pharmacological interventions. Group housing of lactating sows has some production disadvantages and somewhat lower productivity would likely have to be expected. Recordings of behavioural indicators in different housing systems suggest a lower welfare level in stalled animals compared with group-housed ones. However, there are no consistent effects on the reproductive performance associated with different housing systems. Experimental studies suggest that the most sensitive period, regarding disturbance of reproductive functions by external stressors, is the time around oestrus. We conclude that by keeping sows according to the pig welfare-friendly Directive 2008/120/EC, it is possible to combine group-housing of sows with good reproductive performance and productivity. However, substantially increased research and development is needed to optimize these systems.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infects a range of species, including humans, pigs, wild boars and deer. Zoonotic transmission may contribute to the high HEV seroprevalence in the human population of many countries. A novel divergent HEV from moose (Alces alces) in Sweden was recently identified by partial genome sequencing. Since only one strain was found, its classification within the HEV family, prevalence in moose and zoonotic potential was unclear. We therefore investigated samples from 231 moose in seven Swedish counties for HEV, and sequenced a near complete moose HEV genome. Phylogenetic analysis to classify this virus within the family Hepeviridae and to explore potential host specific determinants was performed.
The HEV prevalence of moose was determined by PCR (marker for active infection) and serological assays (marker of past infection) of sera and 51 fecal samples from 231 Swedish moose. Markers of active and past infection were found in 67 (29%) animals, while 34 (15%) were positive for HEV RNA, 43 (19%) were seropositive for anti-HEV antibodies, and 10 (4%) had both markers. The number of young individuals positive for HEV RNA was larger than for older individuals, and the number of anti-HEV antibody positive individuals increased with age. The high throughput sequenced moose HEV genome was 35-60% identical to existing HEVs. Partial ORF1 sequences from 13 moose strains showed high similarity among them, forming a distinct monophyletic clade with a common ancestor to HEV genotype 1-6 group, which includes members known for zoonotic transmission.
This study demonstrates a high frequency of HEV in moose in Sweden, with markers of current and past infection demonstrated in 30% of the animals. Moose is thus an important animal reservoir of HEV. The phylogenetic relationship demonstrated that the moose HEV belonged to the genotype 1-6 group, which includes strains that also infect humans, and therefore may signify a potential for zoonotic transmission of this HEV.
In recent decades, wild boars (Sus scrofa) have increased in numbers and distribution in Europe. Compared to other wild ungulates of similar body size, wild boars have a high reproductive capacity. To increase the knowledge of wild boar reproduction, the objective of this study was to investigate characteristics of reproductive organs, and to provide information on the occurrence of abnormalities in reproductive organs from free-ranging female wild boars. Between December 2011 and December 2015, reproductive organs from female wild boars (>30 kg body weight), were collected during hunting in four Swedish counties at estates where supplementary feeding was applied. The organs were macroscopically examined and measured. The stage of the reproductive cycle was defined according to the ovarian structures and in relation to uterus characteristics. Observed abnormalities were noted. The results from 569 animals that met the requirements to be included in this study showed significant differences in weight and length of the uterus between the various reproductive stages. Sampling region had significant effect on these differences. Abnormalities in the reproductive organs were present in approximately 10% of the examined animals. The prevalence of abnormalities increased significantly with age and was significantly affected by sampling region.
The number and spatial distribution of wild boars (Sus scrofa) has increased remarkably in Sweden as well as in other European countries. To understand the population dynamics of the wild boar, knowledge of its reproductive period, oestrus cycle and reproductive success is essential. The aim of this study was therefore to describe the seasonal reproductive pattern and reproductive potential of a wild boar population in Sweden. The study was based on findings from macroscopic examinations of the reproductive organs from 575 hunter-harvested female wild boars (>30 kg body weight). Samples were collected between December 2011 and December 2015 in the southern and middle parts of Sweden. The age of the sampled animals was determined and dressed weight was noted. The stage of the reproductive cycle was defined according to ovarian structures and in relation to the appearance of/and findings in the uterus. The crown-rump length (CRL) of the embryos/foetuses was used to calculate the oestrus/mating month and month for the expected farrowing.
The macroscopic examination revealed a seasonal variation of reproductive stages, although cyclic and pregnant females were found in all seasons. Moreover, the estimated oestrus/mating and farrowing months based on the CRL showed that mating and farrowing may occur 'off-season'. The average litter size (no. of embryos or foetuses) per pregnant female was 5.4. Sow weight and age had significant effect on both the reproductive potential (ovulation rate and litter size) and pregnancy rate, respectively.
The reproductive potential in the studied wild boar population was high compared to studies from other countries and farrowing may occur 'off-season'. This suggests that the environmental conditions in Sweden, including supplemental feeding, are favourable for wild boar reproduction.
Both Rickettsia helvetica and Anaplasma phagocytophilum are common in Ixodes ricinus ticks in Sweden. Knowledge is limited regarding different animal species' competence to act as reservoirs for these organism. For this reason, blood samples were collected from wild cervids (roe deer, moose) and domestic mammals (horse, cat, dog) in central Sweden, and sera were tested using immunofluorescence assay to detect antibodies against spotted fever rickettsiae using Rickettsia helvetica as antigen. Sera with a titer =1:64 were considered as positive, and 23.1% (104/450) of the animals scored positive. The prevalence of seropositivity was 21.5% (23/107) in roe deer, 23.3% (21/90) in moose, 36.5% (23/63) in horses, 22.1% (19/90) in cats, and 17.0% (17/100) in dogs. PCR analysis of 113 spleen samples from moose and sheep from the corresponding areas were all negative for rickettsial DNA. In roe deer, 85% (91/107) also tested seropositive for A. phagocytophilum with a titer cutoff of 1:128. The findings indicate that the surveyed animal species are commonly exposed to rickettsiae and roe deer also to A. phagocytophilum.
The wild boar ( Sus scrofa) population has increased markedly during the last three decades in Sweden and in other parts of Europe. This population growth may lead to increased contact between the wild boar and the domestic pig ( Sus scrofa scrofa), increasing the risk of transmission of pathogens. The objective of our study was to estimate the seroprevalence of selective pathogens, known to be shared between wild boars and domestic pigs in Europe, in three wild boar populations in Sweden. In total, 286 hunter-harvested female wild boars were included in this study. The sera were analyzed for antibodies against nine pathogens using different commercial or in-house enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Antibodies were detected against porcine parvovirus (78.0%), porcine circovirus type 2 (99.0%), swine influenza virus (3.8%), Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae (17.5%), Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (24.8%), and Toxoplasma gondii (28.6%). No antibodies were detected against porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome virus, Brucella suis, or Mycobacterium bovis. Our results highlight the potential importance of the wild boar as a reservoir for pathogens potentially transmissible to domestic pigs and which also may affect human health.
Q fever is a zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii. Prevalence data in ruminant species are important to support risk assessments regarding public and animal health. The aim was to investigate the presence of or exposure to C. burnetii in cattle, sheep, goats and moose, and to compare two enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs). National surveys of antibodies against C. burnetii were performed for dairy cattle (n=1537), dairy goats (n=58) and sheep (n=518). Bovine samples consisted of bulk milk, caprine of pooled milk, and ovine of pooled serum. Antibodies were investigated in moose samples (n=99) from three regions. A one-year regional cattle bulk milk survey was performed on the Isle of Gotland (n=119, four occasions). Cattle, sheep and goat samples were analysed with indirect ELISA and moose samples with complement fixation test. For the sheep, goat, and parts of the cattle survey, samples were run in parallel by ELISAs based on antigens from infected ruminants and ticks. Bulk milk samples from the regional cattle survey and vaginal swabs from a subset of the sheep herds (n=80) were analysed for the agent by polymerase chain reaction. Spatial clustering was investigated in the national cattle survey.
The prevalence of antibodies in dairy herds was 8.2% with large regional differences. High risk clusters were identified in the southern regions. The prevalence among dairy herds on the Isle of Gotland varied from 55.9% to 64.6% and 46.4% to 58.9.0% for antibodies and agent, respectively, overall agreement between agent and antibodies was 85.2%. The prevalence of antibodies in sheep was 0.6%, the agent was not detected the vaginal swabs. Antibodies were not detected in goats or moose, although parts of the moose samples were collected in an area with high prevalence in cattle. The overall agreement between the two ELISAs was 90.4%.
The prevalence of antibodies against C. burnetii in dairy cattle in Sweden shows large regional differences. The results suggest that C. burnetii is a rare pathogen among Swedish moose, dairy goat and sheep. ELISAs based on ruminant and tick antigen performed in a similar manner under Swedish conditions.
Climate change, with warmer temperatures and altered precipitation patterns, has affected the distribution of vectors and vector-borne diseases. In the northern hemisphere, vectors are spreading north, and with them, pathogens of zoonotic and animal health impact. Eurasian moose (Alces alces alces) are physiologically and anatomically adapted for cold climate, and are rarely considered ideal hosts of vectors, apart from deer keds (Lipoptena cervi). To investigate the presence of vector-borne pathogens, spleen samples from 615 moose were collected in southern Sweden from 2008 to 2015. The samples were analyzed with a high-throughput PCR method for 24 bacterial, and 12 parasitic pathogens. Anaplasma (82%), Borrelia (3%), Babesia (3%), and Bartonella (1%) DNA was found, showing that moose are exposed to, and can act as hosts of some of these pathogens, which can have an impact of both animal and human health. These results show that Swedish moose are exposed to pathogens that in some instances are more commonly found in regions with warmer climate, and highlights the importance of also considering moose as sentinels of vector-borne pathogens. Further research is needed to understand the effect of these pathogens on the health of individual moose and to elucidate whether climate change and moose population density interact to create the pattern observed.