Pigs, like human beings and all other vertebrates, show two kinds of immune responses:
- Innate immune response: it is present since birth and it is always ready to mobilize and fight microbes at the site of infection. Innate immunity is very fast (active in less than 12 hours) but unspecific.
- Acquired immune response: it develops during the life of the animal. It is highly specific to a particular pathogen and very effective, but it takes time to respond (hours and even days).
Contamination by mycotoxins, even at levels that do not cause visible signs of mycotoxicosis, suppresses immune function, decreases resistance to infectious diseases and interferes with vaccinations.
The main mycotoxins with negative effects on pig’s immune system are aflatoxins, fumonisins, thricothecenes (T2 toxin and DON) and ochratoxins. Each of these mycotoxins impairs either innate or acquired immunity:
1) Fumonisins affect innate immunity by inhibiting the activity of macrophages, especially in lungs and digestive epithelium. At concentrations as low as 1 ppm, fumonisin B1 opens the door to respiratory pathogens such as Mycoplasma and promotes the colonization of the digestive epithelium by E. coli.
2) Aflatoxins reduce the cellular response of acquired immunity. It has been proved that aflatoxins decrease the resistance to Brachyspira hyodysenteriae and impair the efficacy of vaccines against Erysipela.
3) T-2 toxin (from 0.5 ppm) and DON (from 1 ppm) impair acquired immunity by decreasing antibody response. T-2 toxin contamination is associated witgh a higher occurrence of infectious diseases of bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic origin. On the other hand, it has been demonstrated that DON reduces efficacy of vaccination against porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV).
4) Ochratoxins damage acquired immunity responses through several mechanism of action. There are less studies on the effects of ochratoxins, but seems that contamination above 1 ppm leads to a higher risk of pneumonia and other bacterial infections.
Immunosuppression is one of the most important consequences of mycotoxin contamination of the feed, even if it is the most difficult to identify because the onset of diseases and the vaccine failures are often attributed to other causes.
Adding a good mycotoxin binder to swine feeds as a routine practice is necessary to reduce mycotoxin problems in pig industry.
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