There is nothing quite so devastating to the agricultural and food industry as a virus or disease which affects livestock. Once animals are infected, or even if there is simply a hint of infection, whole herds of animals may have to be destroyed. The livestock may be the most essential asset for the farmer and if this is put at risk, his own livelihood is also seriously in danger. This in turn on a large scale could place a countries economy in chaos if they are reliant on a specific food product. Last year there were reports of African Swine Fever (ASF) moving towards Asia and since then, even though there have been great attempts to curtail its effects, it continues it’s rampage across the continent.
What is African Swine Fever?
The first report of the outbreak of African Swine Fever was in September 2018 in China. Soon after there were clear signs that it was headed towards other countries in South East Asia. It was particularly problematic in China because pork is the country’s primary foodstuff. This has therefore put the whole food industry at risk.
African Swine Fever is a severe viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs and can be spread by live or dead livestock. It can also be spread via contaminated feed and objects such as clothes, vehicles, knives and general farming equipment. The virus is highly resistant to antibodies and as of yet (at the time of writing this article), there is no vaccine for it. Thankfully ASF is not a risk to humans.
The traditional signs of ASF are high fever, depression, anorexia, haemorrhages under the skin, early mis-carriages, vomiting and diarrhoea. In some cases, mortality rates have been as high as 100%.
The speed of transmission is of great concern, statistics supplied by a local animal husbandry magazine noted that when the disease was in Europe it took 11 years to travel 3,000 kms. In China it spread 2100 kms in three weeks.
Without an approved vaccine there is a need for control measures in countries where it is prevalent and prevention planning in countries free of the disease.
In South East Asia there are not only small and large farms but also a huge proportion of farmers work from their own backyard. This type of approach in the industry has made gathering realistic statistics and control of the disease difficult.
The latest reports according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) shows 31 outbreaks in 14 administrative divisions are still on-going in the People’s Republic of China. In Vietnam the number of outbreaks has increased dramatically since the first occurrence in February 2019. 79 outbreaks are currently on-going. In Mongolia 11 outbreaks have been reported since the first occurrence at the beginning of the year.
As early as November 2018 Thailand’s Department of Livestock Development reported that ASF had been detected in sausages that Chinese tourists had brought into the country. In neighbouring countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar where pork and pig farming is staple to the economies, there are fears that the disease will spread and cause massive disruption. This has heightened the need for prevention. Following an outbreak in Japan, Taiwan has banned import of live pigs and related products from Japan.
Controlling the outbreak of African Swine fever
Control of the disease needs to be linked to each country’s epidemiological situation. Traditional measures include early detection and humane killing accompanied by proper disposal of carcasses and waste. Special attention needs to be given to thorough cleansing and disinfection and there needs to be significant movement controls within countries where there have been outbreaks. Strict biosecurity measures are also recommended on farms.
Preventing outbreaks in neighbouring Asian countries
In order to prevent introduction of the disease into an Asian country, the OIE recommends the following measures:
- Early detection and appropriate biosecurity
- Concentration on border vigilance activities such as quarantine and biosecurity
- Enhance awareness of the issues amongst farmers, pig breeders, traders, butchers, distributors. Vets and of course the general public.
- Enhance passive surveillance and subsequent reporting to the Veterinary authority where necessary.
- Keep risk assessments and ensure there are resources to prevent or deal with possible outbreaks.
- Training of Veterinary clinicians in ASF disease detection, control and prevention.
- Enhanced biosecurity in backyard farms where possible.
- Separation between domestic and wild pigs.
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