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The protective milk shot – How mother’s milk protects piglets from parasite infections

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Coccidiosis is a serious disease in new-born piglets. Caused by the parasite Cystoisospora suis, it exclusively infects pigs and often causes severe diarrhoea in suckling piglets. Parasitologists at the Vetmeduni Vienna have developed a new strategy for protecting the piglets: They infected sows with the pathogen during pregnancy. Antibodies against C. suis and other immune cells produced by the mother were transferred to the piglets through the milk, protecting them against serious infections. The results were published in the scientific journal Veterinary Parasitology.

Antibodies against C. suis are transferred via the sow’s very first milk to the piglets immediately after birth. This was discovered by veterinarian and parasitologist Lukas Schwarz and his colleagues in 2013. These findings prompted the researchers at the Institute for Parasitology to look for a way to increase the level of these antibodies in sows. The ultimate goal was to provide the piglets with as much antibodies as possible via their mother’s milk during the first few days of life.

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