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Research comment
Distribution and transmission of aetiological agents of swine dysentery
  1. Hampson David J., BVetMed, PhD, DSc, FASM, FAAM, FRCPath, FRCVS
  1. Department of Infectious Diseases and Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong
  1. E-mail: david.hampson{at}

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Swine dysentery is a serious production-limiting disease of pigs, with a global distribution. The condition is characterised by variable, and often severe, mucohaemorrhagic colitis, mainly seen in grower and finisher animals.

Swine dysentery originally emerged in the USA in the 1920s. In the early 1970s, an anaerobic spirochaete that was strongly haemolytic on blood agar, now known as Brachyspira hyodysenteriae, was described as the aetiological agent of swine dysentery. Other less haemolytic Brachyspira species also occur, but apart from Brachyspira pilosicoli, which can cause a milder form of colitis, these are generally considered to be commensal or of low pathogenic potential in pigs.

In recent years, two other strongly haemolytic Brachyspira species have been described and named, and both have been shown to be capable of causing swine dysentery.1,2 As discussed in a paper by Rohde and others, summarised on p 195 of this week’s issue of Vet Record,3 during the early 2000s Brachyspira suanatina, the first of the two ‘new’ strongly haemolytic species, was isolated on several occasions from wild ducks and pigs in Sweden and Denmark. An isolate identified as B suanatina by nox-restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) subsequently was found in a duck from a diseased flock in Hungary.4

What you need to know

  • Three different strongly haemolytic Brachyspira species (spirochaetes) are now known to be able to cause swine dysentery.

  • Brachyspira suanatina, which previously was …

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