The nation’s feral pig population continues to expand, increasing the potential for interaction with humans and domestic swine — and for spreading diseases.
Researchers at North Carolina State University examined feral pigs from eastern North Carolina to determine exposure to two parasites that can be transmitted from animals to people — Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) and Trichinella.
The study found that wild pigs host a significant number of these parasites.
“If ingested by humans, these parasites can invade muscle tissue and organs, causing flu-like symptoms — with more serious complications in the immune-compromised,” says Chris DePerno, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences and co-author of the paper describing the research.
“Little research has focused on evaluating feral pigs as potential reservoirs for these zoonotic parasites. Because of the numbers of commercial swine populations in eastern North Carolina, the expanding feral pig population, and the greater interaction with humans, we wanted to determine the exposure of feral pigs to these zoonotic parasites.”
Modern market farm production practices have nearly eliminated the presence of most of these parasites in domestic swine. However, the recent trend toward organic and free-range pig production has increased domestic pig exposure to infection, and the possibility of human infection through pork consumption.
Between 2007 and 2009, researchers collected blood serum from 83 feral pigs harvested at Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center in Four Oaks, N.C. The pigs were then tested for the presence of antibodies. The prevalence of antibodies to T. gondii and Trichinella were 27.7 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively, and 4 percent had antibodies to both agents.
“As feral pig range and population size expands, the opportunity for feral pig hunting increases. We recommend education programs be conducted for hunters to understand their risk of exposure to these diseases during the cleaning process and meat consumption,” DePerno says. Also, he hopes to conduct additional research examining the interaction of feral pigs with domestic swine operations, especially in light of the growth of free-range pig productions.
DePerno conducted the study with former fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology graduate student Mark Sandfoss, Drs. James Flowers and Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf in North Carolina State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Sharon Patton from the University of Tennessee.
The research is published in the April issue of the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.