Cryptosporidium and Giardia in Danish organic pig farms: seasonal and age-related variation in prevalence, infection intensity and species/genotypes

Heidi Huus Petersen, Wang Jianmin, Kiran K. Katakam, Helena Mejer, Stig M. Thamsborg, Anders Dalsgaard, Annette Olsen, Heidi Enemark

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    Although pigs are commonly infected with Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia duodenalis, including potentially zoonotic species or genotypes, little is known about age-related infection levels, seasonal differences and genetic variation in naturally infected pigs raised in organic management systems. Therefore, the current study was conducted to assess seasonal and age-related variations in prevalence and infection intensity of Cryptosporidium and Giardia, evaluate zoonotic potential and uncover correlations between species/genotypes, infection intensity and faecal consistency. Shedding of oocysts and cysts ((oo-) cysts) was monitored at quarterly intervals (September 2011 to June 2012) in piglets (n=152), starter pigs (n=234), fatteners (n=230) and sows (n=240) from three organic farms in Denmark. (Oo-) cysts were quantified by immunofluorescence microscopy; and 56/75 subsamples from Cryptosporidium infected pigs were successfully analysed by PCR amplification and partial sequencing of the small subunit (SSU) 18S rRNA and hsp70genes, while 13/67 Giardia subsamples were successfully analysed by amplification and partial sequencing of the 18S rRNA and the gdh genes. Altogether, Cryptosporidium or Giardia infections were observed in 40.9% (350/856) and 14.0% (120/856) of the pigs, respectively, including 8.2% (70/856) infected with both parasites. Prevalence, intensity of infections and presence of Cryptosporidium species varied significantly between age-groups; 53.3% piglets, 72.2% starter pigs, 40.4% fatteners and 2.9% sows were infected with Cryptosporidium, whereas 2.0% piglets, 27.4% starter pigs, 17.8% fatteners and 5.0% sows were infected with Giardia. The overall prevalence was stable throughout the year, except for dual-infections that were more prevalent in September and December (p<0.05). The infection intensity was age-related for both parasites, and dual-infected pigs tended to excrete lower levels of oocysts compared to pigs harbouring only Cryptosporidium. Likewise, pigs infected with C. scrofarum excreted fewer oocysts (mean CPG: 54,848±194,508CI: 9085–118,781) compared to pigs infected with C. suis (mean OPG: 351,035±351,035CI: 67,953–634,117). No correlation between faecal consistency and (oo-) cyst excretion levels was observed. Of the successfully genotyped isolates, 38/56 (67.9%) were C. scrofarum and 18/56 (32.1%) were C. suis, while the livestock specific G. duodenalis Assemblage E was detected in 11/13 (84.6%) isolates and the potentially zoonotic Assemblage A was identified in 2/13 (15.4%) isolates. Piglets exclusively hosted C. suis, with one exception, while starter pigs and fatteners predominantly hosted C. scrofarum.As organic pigs are partly reared outdoors, environmental contamination with Cryptosporidium and Giardia is inevitable. Nevertheless, the present data indicate that the potential public health risk associated with both of these parasites in Danish organic pig production seems to be negligible.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalVeterinary Parasitology
    Issue number1-2
    Pages (from-to)29-39
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • Cryptosporidium
    • Giardia duodenalis
    • Organic pigs
    • Prevalence
    • Molecular typing

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