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Love is in the air, but don’t kiss your pigs!

Updated February 27, 2023
Ryan Samuel

Ryan Samuel

Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Swine Specialist

Young pigs snuggling in a pen.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States on February 14 as a celebration of romance and love. Gifts of cards, candy and signs of affection, such as hugs and kisses are common. However, the latter should be reserved to be shared amongst human companions and not your pigs.

Pigs and people tend to work near each other in barns and outdoor housing situations, so it is important that caretakers be aware of potential zoonotic diseases of swine that could impact their health. Zoonoses caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can cause disease transmissible between animals and humans. Exposure most commonly occurs by direct contact with an infected animal or their waste products. Therefore, basic hygiene and sanitation procedures, including proper handwashing and the use of personal protective equipment, such as gloves and eye protection, should be effective in preventing zoonotic disease transmission from swine. Furthermore, swine caretakers should work with sick animals at the end of the day to reduce potential transmission of disease to other pigs and/or people.

Equally important to note is that caretakers with flu-like symptoms should not be working with their pigs or entering swine facilities until at least 24 hours fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medication or according to the advice of a medical practitioner or the facility operating procedures.

Although not an exhaustive list, below are some common zoonotic pathogens of swine that caretakers should be aware of.

Common Zoonotic Pathogens

  • Brucellosis: Can be transmitted from swine to humans, but risk of infection in the United States is low. However, the disease may be serious and begins with an influenza-like illness. Treatment with an antibiotic is required.

  • Campylobacteriosis: Excreted in the feces or reproductive fluids of infected animals, Campylobacter is an important cause of foodborne illness causing gastrointestinal illness.

  • Erysipeloid: Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is spread by contact and most commonly infects skin wounds causing swelling and lesions on the hands.

  • Hepatitis E: A swine-specific type of this virus that does not cause disease in pigs exists in the United States and can be spread by ingesting food or water contaminated with infected feces.

  • Leptospirosis: Rare in the United States, but can be spread by contact with infected urine or waste.

  • Listeriosis: Relatively rare and usually spread by contact with infected waste, contaminated food, or soil. Serious disease may cause influenza-like symptoms or gastrointestinal upset.

  • Ringworm: Fungi that cause itching, hair loss, and scaly skin can be spread by contact with suspect lesions on pigs. Caretakers are less likely to contract ringworm from pigs than other animals.

  • Salmonellosis: Salmonella is spread by ingestion of fecal matter, causing foodborne illness in the United States.

  • Scabies: Pig-specific mites can survive, but not reproduce, on humans, causing temporary itching and redness.

  • Streptococcus suis: Although rare, it most often enters the body through skin wounds. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is critical in cases of neurological disease.

  • Swine influenza: Viruses are most likely spread by contact with respiratory secretions of sick pigs.

  • Tetanus: Usually enters the body through a wound, allowing the bacterium found in swine feces or soils infected with feces from pigs to enter.

Swine caretakers should be aware that the animals they care for potentially carry organisms that can cause zoonotic disease. Caretakers should take appropriate precautions, including proper handwashing procedures, before eating and drinking and using personal protective equipment, such as gloves and eye protection, when working with or cleaning up after sick animals.

Related Topics

Swine, Animal Health