African swine fever: It’s not the ‘lazy’ virus — it’s unthinking people

African swine fever is spreading like wildfire in Asia, but it’s because people are bringing contaminated pork home


By Jennifer Blair, Alberta Farmer Express (Canada)

October 7, 2019


African swine fever continues to cut a devastating swath across Asia as North American pork industry officials work to keep the deadly disease off our shores.


“The African swine fever virus is spreading very quickly throughout the Southeast Asia region,” Dr. Egan Brockhoff, veterinary counsellor for the Canadian Pork Council said in a Sept. 20 interview.


“It was extremely sad to see South Korea announce its first case this week. It was only a few weeks ago that the Philippines made its announcement (that it had infected herds).


“This virus isn’t going away. It’s continued to spread extensively.”


African swine fever — a virulent disease that is harmless to humans but deadly for pigs — started making global headlines in August 2018 when the first cases of the virus were reported in China, the world’s largest hog producer.


Since then, the disease has swept across the country, decimating up to 40 per cent of China’s 440-million-head hog herd. The disease has also spread to Mongolia, which has lost about 10 per cent of its pig population, and Vietnam, which has culled over two million pigs so far this year.


The disease was first confirmed in the Philippines on Sept. 9, only to be followed a week later by South Korea’s confirmation on Sept. 17. Since then, over 15,000 pigs have been culled in South Korea, with an additional 7,000 culled in the Philippines.


Other outbreaks have also been reported this year in European countries such as Belgium, Hungary, and Russia, among others.


It’s a hard disease to contain,” said Brent Bushell, general manager of Western Hog Exchange. “It’s highly transferrable in many different ways, and there is no cure.”


But that rapid spread isn’t the result of a highly contagious virus. In fact, African swine fever isn’t very infectious at all, said Brockhoff.


“This is a virus that is slow and lazy,” he said. “It’s by no means anywhere near the most infectious virus we deal with.


“But it’s been extremely successful, because African swine fever is a human-driven disease. Human activity really moves this virus.”


As people move infected pigs, transport pigs in infected vehicles, and carry infected meat products from country to country, the disease has spread with them, he said.


“Those are the little things that have all added up to the sum of this extensive movement.”


Industry response ...


On-farm biosecurity ...


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