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MSD survey: Vaccination ‘significantly reducing PD positive results’

Drug maker MSD's survey of 96 farms found blanket vaccination appeared to have reduced positive results for PD. Photo: Aquavac / MSD
Drug maker MSD's survey of 96 farms found blanket vaccination appeared to have reduced positive results for PD. Photo: Aquavac / MSD

Blanket vaccination of farmed salmon appears to have resulted in a significant reduction in positive results for pancreas disease, according to MSD Animal Health following a comprehensive survey.

The results of the Scottish Pancreas Disease (PD) Mapping Project also suggest that herd immunity and improved husbandry practices may also be proving effective as pancreas disease has now fallen down the list of most prevalent diseases found in farmed salmon, however remains a continued risk.

The year-long study by MSD Animal Health, working in collaboration with producers of farmed salmon in Scotland, undertook survey work across 96 sites in Scotland, covering the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland (the Northern Isles) and along the west coast. 

The survey covered both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations to evaluate vaccine efficacy comparing comprehensive historical data collected since 2008 and a similar mapping project completed in 2015 with the recent findings.

PD mapping project 2015

Figure 1 illustrates the findings from the project in 2015. SAV 2 was dominant in the Northern Isles and Northern Region and SAV 1, 4 and 5 in the South West indicating a North/South divide between subtypes.

PD Mapping Project 2018

The methodology used was similar to that of the 2015 project, which was to assess the prevalence of Salmonid alphavirus (SAV) and neutralising antibodies, which indicated a challenge has been present. Where positive SAV was identified, the virus was subtyped to determine which of the six subtypes of SAV were found. This has enabled the mapping project team to provide the most comprehensive view yet of the geographical distribution of SAV subtypes.

Results of samples can highlight the following:

1. Negative virus and antibody: No exposure to the site to PD at that precise moment in time

2.  Positive virus: Active, circulating viral infection.

3.  Positive antibody and positive virus: Mid to late stage infection.

4.  Positive antibody only: Previous infection.

Serology samples were the predominant diagnostic method used during the survey.  Samples were taken at key periods during the production cycle when the SAV infection pressure is likely to be most present. 

The results from the recent project compared with the 2015 data show huge geographical changes regarding PD spread and SAV subtypes. When looking back at Shetland Isles for example, along with SAV 2, subtypes 1 and 5 are now present. West Coast regions are being exposed to all 4 subtypes as shown in Figure 2.

The Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland)

  • The effect of long-term blanket vaccination shows evidence of a significant reduction in the viral load, with a reduced amount of positives. 
  • It shows that the virus is being kept at a level that is not causing any significant level of clinical disease. 
  • In the sites surveyed, there was no evidence of any SAV subtypes being found.
  • These results may also be influenced by improved fish husbandry practices and the effect of “herd immunity” amongst the fish.

The table below shows an example of the reduction in positive results in the Northern Isles comparing historical data. With Orkney and Shetland being a proven hotspot for PD, it shows the benefits of a blanket vaccination approach leading to herd immunity and driving down the viral loading on sites.

The Western Isles

  •  The PD Mapping project detected SAV 1,4 and 5 in positive samples.
  • Antibodies were found on a number of sites where fish had been vaccinated.

West coast mainland

  • Antibody positive and negative virus returns were found on vaccinated sites.
  • SAV 1,2 and 5 positive samples were detected on unvaccinated sites.
  • One company which has adopted blanket vaccination since 2010 which has resulted in a zero return for detection of PD in the recent survey time points.

Liam Doherty, aqua technician at MSD AH, said: “MSD AH is grateful to all those across the three regions in Scotland who worked with us to conduct our major PD Mapping project over the past year.  The results have enabled us to produce the most comprehensive mapping of PD subtypes across 96 sites covering both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. 

“The data we have received and been able to compare with historical data collected since 2008 strongly suggests that blanket vaccination is proving effective in limiting outbreaks. 

“We have detected positive antibodies in fish populations where vaccination has taken place suggesting that herd immunity is developing. This, combined with better husbandry practices, is providing positive outcomes for farmers in terms of the impact that PD causes.”