Cases of newborn "shaking piglets" have been reported since the 1920s both in Europe and abroad. Yet the cause for these congenital tremors has so far eluded researchers. A previously unknown virus had been suspected for quite some time - but without conclusive confirmation. On the basis of new genomic sequence data, a team of researchers from the University Clinic for Swine, the Institute of Virology, and the Institute of Pathology and Forensic Veterinary Medicine at Vetmeduni Vienna has now been able to identify a new virus as the cause of this potentially life-threatening disease. The pathogen, which belongs to the family of so-called atypical porcine pestiviruses (APPV), was detected in diseased animals at Austrian farms using a specially developed test. "Depending on the severity of the shaking, congenital tremor presents a challenge for the piglets from the first minute of their life," says first author Dr. Lukas Schwarz, veterinary clinician at the University Clinic for Swine. The tremor can sometimes be so severe that the piglet is unable to properly suckle milk. Yet suckling is especially important for piglets in the first 24 hours after birth. Only mother's milk contains everything the animals need to survive. "Without the first drink of mother's milk, piglets have a very low chance of survival," Dr. Schwarz explains. In piglets that survive this first phase, symptoms usually subside after three or four weeks. In rare cases, a slight tremor remains in the ears. But getting this far requires an enormous amount of attention and care on the part of the pig farmers and veterinarians. This makes it even more surprising that researchers have so far failed to identify a cause for this mysterious disease.
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