Passive immunisation, an old idea revisited: Basic principles and application to modern animal production systems

Chris Juul Hedegaard, Peter M. H. Heegaard

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    Immunisation by administration of antibodies (immunoglobulins) has been known for more than one hundred years as a very efficient means of obtaining immediate, short-lived protection against infection and/or against the disease-causing effects of toxins from microbial pathogens and from other sources. Thus, due to its rapid action, passive immunisation is often used to treat disease caused by infection and/or toxin exposure. However immunoglobulins may also be administered prior to exposure to infection and/or toxin, although they will not provide long-lasting protection as is seen with active immunisation (vaccination) in which an immunological memory is established by controlled exposure of the host to the pathogen in question. With multi-factorial infectious diseases in production animals, especially those that have proven hard to control by vaccination, the potential of passive immunisation remains big. This review highlights a number of examples on the use of passive immunisation for the control of infectious disease in the modern production of a range of animals, including pigs, cattle, sheep, goat, poultry and fish. Special emphasis is given on the enablement of passive immunisation strategies in these production systems through low cost and ease of use as well as on the sources, composition and purity of immunoglobulin preparations used and their benefits as compared to current measures, including vaccination (also comprising maternal vaccination), antibiotics and feed additives such as spray-dried plasma. It is concluded that provided highly efficient, relatively low-price immunoglobulin products are available, passive immunisation has a clear role in the modern animal production sector as a means of controlling infectious diseases, importantly with a very low risk of causing development of bacterial resistance, thus constituting a real and widely applicable alternative to antibiotics.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalVeterinary Immunology and Immunopathology
    Pages (from-to)50-63
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Passive immunisation
    • Maternal immunity
    • Lactogenic immunity
    • Immunoglobulins
    • Production animals
    • Agammaglobulinemic
    • Gastro intestinal tract
    • Postweaning diarrhoea
    • Failure of passive transfer
    • Colostrum


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