The mechanisms of transmission of influenza A virus (IAV) and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) in pigs during the pre-weaning period are not fully elucidated. Since viable IAV and PRRSV can be found on the udder skin of lactating sows and the use of nurse sows is a common management practice, we developed a novel nurse sow model to evaluate the transmission of IAV and PRRSV from lactating sows to their adopted piglets. In two studies, we infected pigs with either IAV or PRRSV who then contaminated the udder skin of lactating dams with their nasal and oral secretions while suckling. Once the skin was confirmed virus positive for IAV and PRRSV, the sows were moved to separate empty clean rooms to adopt IAV and PRRSV negative suckling piglets. After adoption, 1 out of eight (12.5%) piglets tested IAV positive 1-day post-adoption (dpa) and the entire litter (8 out of 8) became positive by 4 dpa. In the case of PRRSV, 3 out of 11 (27.3%) pigs tested rRT-PCR positive 2 dpa and there were 7 out of 11 (63.6%) pigs positive at the termination of the study at 7 dpa. This study documented the transmission of IAV and PRRSV between litters of piglets by nurse sows and highlights the importance of the nurse sow-piglet as a unit that contributes to the maintenance of endemic infections in breeding herds. The use of nurse sows in pig farms, though beneficial for minimizing pre-weaning mortality and maximizing farm productivity, is seemingly detrimental as this practice may facilitate the transmission of IAV and PRRSV to piglets prior to weaning.
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