The human/animal interface: emergence and resurgence of zoonotic infectious diseases.
- Michael Greger
- Critical reviews in microbiology
Mixing of unfamiliar pigs is common practice in intensive pig husbandry. Since pigs maintain a dominance hierarchy, mixing often leads to vigorous fighting. Apart from the negative impact that fighting has on welfare, there is evidence that the social stress associated with fighting suppresses immune function. In the present experiment, we investigated the impact of mixing on specific long-term immune responses and protection against challenge infection after vaccination with pseudorabies virus (PRV). Specific pathogen-free (SPF) pigs were mixed pairwise with an unfamiliar same-gender conspecific or left undisturbed with a same-gender littermate at 3 days after vaccination with PRV. Half of the pigs were females (gilts) and half were castrated males (barrows). Mixing increased agonistic behavior to the same degree in gilts and barrows. Cortisol concentrations in saliva and catecholamine excretion in urine were increased in mixed pigs, and these effects were independent of dominance status and gender. Subsequently, the effects of mixing, gender, dominance status and interactions between these factors on immune response parameters were studied. The main result was that mixed barrows showed suppressed immune responses after vaccination and increased clinical symptoms after challenge infection compared to control barrows. Mixed gilts however did not differ from control gilts. It also appeared that mixed dominants were more seriously affected than mixed subordinates were. We conclude that, in some pigs, social stress after mixing suppresses the immune response to a viral vaccine and consequently impairs protection against challenge infection.