Researchers at the University of Adelaide are starting a national-scale surveillance project looking at influenza in feral pigs. The project is going ahead following the success of a pilot scheme conducted in South Australia in 2014, which achieved promising results. In 2014, the South Australian Natural Resources Management Board offered the researchers the opportunity of collecting samples from their control shoots – a chance that the researchers could not pass up.
Waterbirds are natural hosts for the biggest groups of influenza viruses, but pigs have also been a source of influenza viruses for many years. In wetland environments around Australia, pigs and waterbirds share their environment. The researchers are attempting to show that the feral pigs in wetlands of Australia are also sharing viruses with the waterbirds, which can be another way to monitor what viruses we have in Australia and how they change over time.
The researchers are concentrating on Ramsar wetlands in the south-east and north-east of South Australia, where there are high concentrations of waterbirds – the natural host of the viruses under investigation. As well as the birds, both areas have had, and continue to have, problems with feral pigs. The researchers will look for any signs that the pigs may be exposed to viruses the birds are shedding, and although the researchers cannot conclusively say so yet, they are hopeful that broadening the search around the country will give them more information, and hopefully even find viruses. The aim is to test the theory that pigs associated with wetland areas are more likely to have antibodies to influenza viruses, the immune response.
In order to get a picture of what is going on nationwide, the researchers are calling for any offers of help in getting samples. Taking samples involves collecting blood and also a swab from the pig’s nose, both samples of which can then be sent back to the University of Adelaide for testing and inclusion in the study.
Collecting samples from around the country will help the researchers identify what viruses the pigs are exposed to. They are also hoping to highlight the role pigs play in the survival of the virus, as well as possibly passing it back to birds, which will assist the researchers in designing more effective surveillance. The study will be conducted throughout 2016 and all results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
If you would like to be involved in this important study, the researchers would love to hear from you. All kits and instructions, as well as return transport of samples, will be provided by the lab and the researchers are always happy to discuss the project with anyone who is interested. For more information, please contact lead researcher Toni Dalziel on 08 8313 2546 or [email protected]