A foreign animal disease that has the potential to be devastating to U.S. swine producers is African Swine Fever. It’s a long-standing disease found in countries around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Since August 2018 China has confirmed more than 50 cases of the disease. The disease is also spreading within the European Union, reaching 10 member states and affecting mostly the wild-pig population. As the number of cases grows, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is increasing its vigilance and safeguarding efforts against the spread of the disease to the United States.
African swine fever is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both domestic and feral or wild pigs in all age groups. It’s not a threat to human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans. It’s is spread by contact with infected-animal body fluids. It can be spread by ticks that feed on infected animals. People are also a source of spread; they can move the virus on vehicles or clothing. It can also be spread by feeding pigs uncooked garbage that contains infected pork products, though there are state and federal regulations in place to ensure garbage feeding is done correctly and will not spread disease. The signs of the disease include high fever; decreased appetite; weakness; red, blotchy skin or skin lesions; diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing. Producers or veterinarians should immediately report animals with any of these signs to state or federal animal-health officials for appropriate testing and investigation. Timeliness is essential to preventing the spread of the disease. There is no treatment or vaccine available. The only way to stop the deadly disease is to depopulate all affected or exposed swine herds.
Because of the concern over the disease, USDA recently reviewed and further strengthened its longstanding stringent protections against its spread.
Collaborating with states, industry and producers to ensure everyone follows on-farm biosecurity and best practices including for garbage feeding in states where that is allowed
Restricting imports of pork and pork products from affected countries
Working with USDA staff at ports of entry to increase passenger and baggage screening for prohibited products from affected countries.
Although prevention is the goal, the USDA is also actively readying and planning its response should the diesae be detected. The USDA has an existing emergency-response plan for African Swine Fever. Officials update and adjust it based on current epidemiological information to ensure it remains as strong and effective as possible. The USDA is increasing the testing capacity of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network labs. That will ensure diagnostic testing occurs quickly and accurately so officials can respond rapidly if African Swine Fever is detected.
The USDA will support disease-monitoring efforts following an outbreak, should one occur. Because the disease spreads rapidly and can kill quickly, fast detection is key to preventing disease spread and limiting the scope of an outbreak. It’s essential that sick pigs showing potential signs of African Swine Fever are reported to state or federal animal-health officials immediately for appropriate testing. Limiting an outbreak is important for many reasons, but the most important one being that is reduces the number of producers who are directly affected.
Any finding of African Swine Fever will impact international trade and the swine industry, but the sooner the disease is contained and controlled, the sooner the agency and producers can work together to return to business as usual.
Even with the USDA safeguards in place, producers, the swine industry, veterinarians and even international travelers should be vigilant in protecting against African Swine Fever. It’s essential that all producers and the swine industry ensure strict biosecurity procedures are in place and being followed on all swine farms. Good biosecurity will help protect pigs from African Swine Fever and other infectious diseases by preventing the introduction and spread of viruses or other germs throughout pig populations. Each farm should have a biosecurity manager responsible for educating workers and all onsite personnel about the site-specific biosecurity plans or protocols for that farm. Biosecurity should be routinely evaluated to be sure the plans are working and that steps are completed correctly every day and every time. Producers should also maintain strict records of visitor traffic including personnel, vehicles and equipment on farms and all pig-production facilities. For more information on swine biosecurity, contact a swine-industry association.
African Swine Fever, first described in the 1920s in Kenya, is a highly contagious hemorrhagic disease of wild and domestic suids with extremely high morbidity and mortality rates. It’s a notifiable disease with the World Organization for Animal Health due to its ability to spread rapidly and cause severe illness. African Swine Fever does not pose a risk to public health. It’s the only known arthropod-borne DNA virus. The disease is endemic in Sardinia, most countries of sub-Saharan Africa and some West African countries. Spain and Portugal eradicated African Swine Fever in the mid-1990’s; it was also eradicated from the Caribbean following outbreaks from 1977 to 1980. But the unimpeded spread of the disease through Russia, the Caucasus and recent introduction into China is cause for concern. The disease has never been reported in the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.