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Erysipelas - KuneKune Pig Health

Erysipelas, also known as diamond-skin disease, is a bacterial infection affecting primarily pigs, but also sheep and birds. It's caused by Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, a bacterium commonly found in soil and water. This infection can manifest as diamond-shaped skin lesions, fever, lameness, and arthritis. While antibiotics are an effective treatment, vaccination is crucial for prevention. Early detection and intervention are key, as untreated Erysipelas can be fatal. If you raise pigs or other susceptible animals, be vigilant about the symptoms and consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect infection.

Erysipelas disease is a severe illness that affects all pigs over 12 weeks of age. The symptoms of this disease include loss of appetite, fever, and small, raised diamonds on the skin. If left untreated, it can result in death.

What is Erysipelas?

Swine erysipelas is caused by a bacterium called Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae (also known as insidiosa). This bacterium is present in almost all pig farms, with up to 50% of pigs carrying it in their tonsils. The bacterium is excreted through saliva, feces, or urine, and can also survive outside the pig for a few weeks, especially in light soils. Therefore, it is impossible to eliminate it from a herd.

The primary source of infection is infected feces, particularly in growing and finishing pens, while contaminated water also aids the spread of the disease. Swine erysipelas is rare in pigs under 8 to 12 weeks of age due to the protection provided by maternal antibodies from the sow via the colostrum. The most vulnerable animals are growing pigs, non-vaccinated gilts, and sows up to fourth parity.


A bit more information

It is possible for the bacterium to cause a disease on its own, but concurrent virus infections such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) or swine influenza (SI) may trigger outbreaks. The organism typically enters the body through the tonsils, naturally occurring breaks in the integrity of the small intestine, or wounds associated with fighting. Once inside the body, the organism multiplies and invades the bloodstream, leading to septicemia. The speed of multiplication and the level of immunity in the pig will determine the clinical symptoms.

It is important to note that once infected, the pig will become immune to the disease. In most cases, the disease will only manifest as mild or sub-clinical. Erysipelas can also cause local skin lesions in humans, although this is rare. The severity of the disease can vary depending on the strain of erysipelas, ranging from very mild to very severe. The incubation period lasts between 24 to 48 hours.

Clinical Signs and Symptoms

First, the onset is sudden. The disease is confined to two or three animals in any one outbreak although in the non-vaccinated herd, 5 to 10 percent of animals could be affected any one time. Overall, it can be so mild that it goes unnoticed.


  • Often the only sign is death due to an acute septicemia or heart failure.
  • Restricted blood supply causes small, raised areas called diamonds in the skin. These are clearly defined become red and finally black, due to dead tissue but no abscesses. Most heal in 7–10 days.
  • High temperatures 40°C (108°F; fever).
  •  Obviously ill (although some can appear normal).
  • Furthermore, palpated lumps will be in the initial stages before anything can be seen.
  • Stiffness or reluctance to rise indicating joint infection – arthritis.
  •  Inappetence.
  • Infertility.
  •  Skin ulceration.
  • The organism either affects:
  • Undoubtedly, the joints can cause lameness.
  • The heart valves produce growths.


  As a rule, Boars infected with erysipelas develop elevated temperatures and sperm can be affected for the complete development period of five to six weeks. Infertility is demonstrated by returns, sows not in pigs and poor litter sizes.

The important effects of erysipelas on reproductive failure

  • Sick animals with high fevers.
  • Abortions during acute or sub-acute disease with ill sows and dead piglets.
  • The death of piglets inside the womb and mummification.
  • Abortions with decomposing piglets.
  •  Absorption of embryos and delayed returns.
  • Normal returns if infection occurs immediately post-service.
  • Variable litter size.

Weaners and growers

Commonly, the disease is less acute and mild.

  • Sudden death.
  • Acutely ill pigs running feverish temperatures.
  • Characteristic skin lesions may also be evident as large 10 to 50-mm raised diamond-shaped areas over the body that may turn from red to black. They may be easier to feel than to see in the initial stages and often resolve over 7 to 10 days.
  • Skin lesions may appear, but the pigs may not appear to be ill despite an elevated temperature of 42°C (107°F).
  •  The organism may settle in the joints causing chronic arthritis and swellings which can be responsible for condemnations at slaughter.
  • Lameness. 


This disease is identified by observing the following symptoms:

- Loss of appetite

- High fever

- Diamond-shaped skin swellings that can be felt by running the hand over the skin of the back or behind the back legs and over the flanks. These markings may not be obvious to the eye.

- Post-mortem examination and isolation of the organism will reveal the disease. The organism is easy to grow in the laboratory. Serology can determine exposure to the organism, but it can only confirm the disease if the titers rise 14 days apart.

- The interpretation of titer levels (hemagglutination inhibition test):

- 1:4–1:64 due to vaccination.

- 1:32–1:320 suggests maternal antibody or exposure to the organism.

- 1:640 suggests previous infection.

- A rise in a titer level from 1:320 to 1:1280 would suggest active infection.

It's important to note that while the bacterium alone can cause the disease, concurrent virus infections such as PRRS or influenza may trigger larger outbreaks. This should be considered when making a diagnosis.


  • Wet dirty pens, particularly if they are heavily contaminated with feces that contain high numbers of organisms.
  • Wet feeding systems, particularly if milk by-products are used, can become major sources for the multiplication of the organism.
  • Continually populated houses with no all-in and all-out procedures and disinfection.
  • Water systems that have become contaminated with the organism.
  •  Feedback of feces.
  •  The movement of pigs involves mixing and stress, particularly when maternal antibodies from the sow are disappearing.
  • Sudden changes in temperature and warm summer weather.
  • During warm summer weather when pigs foul their pens.
  • Sudden changes in diet.
  • Common in straw-based systems.
  •  Diets that contain fungal toxins (mycotoxins) particularly aflatoxin.
  • Heavy parasite burdens or low levels of coccidia that allow the bacteria to enter through the damaged wall of the intestine.
  • The purchase of non-vaccinated boars or gilts.
  • Virus infections particularly PRRS and SI. 


  •  If a boar is ill with a temperature and shows skin lesions, treat immediately and do not use for mating for a minimum period of four weeks. Alternatively, cross-mate with boars that have no disease history or use AI.
  • Vaccinate all gilts and young boars twice, two to four weeks apart (according to manufacturer's instructions) from 14 weeks of age.
  • In herds where there is a high challenge it may be necessary to re-vaccinate gilts and boars so that a third dose of vaccine is given two months after the second often when the breeding animals arrive on the farm.
  • Re-vaccinate sows either two weeks before farrowing, or at weaning time, depending on the incidence and history of disease on the farm.
  • Make sure boars are re-vaccinated every six months.
  • If disease breakdowns occur despite vaccination, it is likely that the levels of challenge from the environment are high. Assess hygiene in breeding pens and move to an all-in all-out method of housing.
  • In an outbreak remember that water, feces, dung, nasal secretions, bedding, and feed, harbor the organisms.
  • Killed vaccines are quite safe and have no adverse effects on the sow.
  • Efficient storage of the vaccine as per the manufacturer’s recommendation is essential.
  •  Sporadic disease is common in sows but if one sow in a group becomes infected the exposure is high from her urine and feces and it is advisable to inject all contact animals with penicillin.
  •  Birds will contaminate feed. Assess the levels of exposure in your herd.
  • If feed-back of feces is practiced in the herd, it should be stopped immediately, or it will spread the disease faster.



  • The erysipelas organism is extremely sensitive to penicillin. Acutely ill animals should be treated with quick-acting penicillin twice daily for three days. Alternatively, give a long-acting penicillin as a single dose to cover 48 hours of treatment, could be given and then repeated.
  • Treat by intramuscular injection 1ml/10kg (300,000iu/ml).
  • Medicate the feed with 200g/ton of phenoxy methyl penicillin for 10–14 days. This is a highly effective method of prevention and can be used in major outbreaks of disease.

Acute Cases

  • In acute cases a quick-acting penicillin injected twice in the first 24 hours should bring about a rapid response. Continue daily injections for three to four days.
  •  Put medication in water where many sows are involved. Medicate with Amoxycillin or phenoxy-methyl penicillin should be carried out. The dose level will depend upon the purity of the antibiotic powder used.
  • Amoxycillin, phenoxy methyl penicillin, or tetracyclines in the drinking water are also effective.
  • Where large numbers of pigs are involved, it may be necessary to inject all the pigs in the groups at risk.
  •  In Summer months erysipelas will occur with outbreaks involving pens or complete houses of pigs.
  • If the disease is acute, treatment should commence immediately via the water and be continued with in-feed medication using phenoxy methyl penicillin (pen. V) 200g/ton or tetracyclines 500g/ton. (Pen. V should be used for prevention in the face of an outbreak.)
  • In individual outbreaks finishing pens should be washed and disinfected between batches. If wet feeding is implicated the system must be cleaned out and disinfected.

Content credit: Thepigsite.com 

In conclusion, we hope that you understand more about this pig disease called erysipelas. Thus, how to recognize the signs for it. Indeed, preventing it is even easier. Therefore, vaccinations are the solution the problem.

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