Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae

This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Note for Animal Owners:
Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae can be transmitted to humans, and so it is a Zoonosis and appropriate precautions should be taken when handling animals that might be carrying the organism.


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Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae was first isolated by Koch in 1876.  In the genus Erysipelothrix - E. rhusiopathiae used to be the only named species, but now a non-pathogenic species E.tonsillarum has been identified based upon biochemical and genetic analyses.

Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is a pathogenic micro-organism which can infect a wide variety (over 50 species) of animals including vertebrates and non-vertebrates, from house flies to wild bears. It is especially common in domesticated pigs which can carry the organism and excrete it in their faeces without showing any external signs of infection, and a source of infection to humans are fish and marine animals.


Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is a non-motile, gram positive, nonsporulating rod and it is a facultative anaerobe.  Growth of this organism is improved by 5-10% CO2.  This micro-organism occurs in a variety of configurations including short chains, in pairs, in a "V" configuration and in random groups.  Virulence varies between different strains of this organisms, so-called "smooth" strains are pathogenic but "rough" forms are not.

Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae usually enters its host through scratches or puncture wounds on the surface of the skin. The organism is resistant in the environment, and it is likely to be found in faecally contaminated environments, especially sewage and soil.

Breed Occurrence
Over 50 species of animals may be infected with this organism, but it is especially common in domesticated pigs. Adult pigs, and especially nursing sows, are more susceptible than others.


Four forms of the clinical effects of this organism (a disease called Swine Erysipelas)  have been identified in pigs, and they occur worldwide :

In sheep and lambs, and cattle  Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae causes joint infection (called Joint Ill).

In birds (Ducks and Turkeys) the disease causes sudden deaths due to septicaemia

In fish this organism does not cause disease BUT it grows and persists for long periods on the body surface which  puts those who handle fish at high risk of contracting this organism.

Human infections are primarily found as a result of occupational hazards such as those who handle fish or pigs. In humans there are three clinical categories for the disease caused by this organism:


Diagnosis is confirmed based upon isolation of the organisms from tissue biopsies or blood 


A vaccine is available against Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae infection in pigs, sheep and turkeys

The organism is sensitive to the following antibiotics :

  • Ampicillin
  • Penicillin

It is resistant to :

  • Aminoglycosides
  • Sulphonamides

Updated January 2016