Escherichia coli (E.coli) causes blood poisoning in newly born piglets, diarrhoea in newly born and weaned piglets, oedema disease (usually in newly weaned piglets), cystitis and mastitis in adult sows.
The bacteria, E. coli, is in every pig. Disease occurs when pathogenic (disease-carrying) strains invade a pig herd or when the immune system of a pig is under stress. For example, starvation, lack of water or other forms of stress, such as a piglet being taken from the mother too young, disturbs the normal balance and allows disease-causing strains of E. coli to flourish in the small intestine and cause disease. It is widely acknowledged that the white blood cells in the mother’s milk reduce the effect of E. coli poisoning.
Unnaturally high protein feeds also add to the problem.
There are many strains of E. coli and these may cause disease in young pigs in several ways, for example producing a poison called enterotoxin (Enterotoxigenic E. coli or ETEC) which directly invades a small intestine or respiratory tract and causes septicaemia.
Newly born piglets may die within 48 hours from E. coli septicaemia and diarrhoea. Outbreaks occur in farrowing sheds where litter after litter can be affected. Of all the diseases in the suckling piglet, diarrhoea is the most common.
E. coli in newly born piglets is caused by factory farm conditions where mothers are moved into filthy farrowing crates to give birth and suckle their young. The crates are metal barred crates that stop the mother sow from being able to walk or even turn around – she therefore has no opportunity of escaping the contaminated excreta.
Pathogenic E. coli also harms newly weaned piglets. Early weaning puts piglets under enormous stress. Post-weaning enteritis or post-weaning diarrhoea occurs within 10 days of weaning.