Mature pigs

As the coronavirus sweeps across the globe sickening humans, scientists are making progress on developing tests that could help combat a different deadly disease — African swine fever, which has been ravaging hog herds.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has taken an interest in the disease, which kills 99% of hogs it infects, as it spread in Asia last year and caused protein shortages.

For now, there are no vaccines or in-the-field detection devices that could help combat the virus in the U.S., but the agency said March 24 it had successfully evaluated a genetic test that detects the virus and returns results in a matter of hours.

Rapid testing can be “a game- changer,” said John Neilan, science director in the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology division.

While the virus hasn’t been detected here, the Department of Homeland Security is looking at new technologies because “you don’t want to start research when it is in the U.S.,” said Michael Puckette, a microbiologist at the department.

The test can be used on raw pork imports as well as on live pigs. It was developed by Lincoln, Nebraska-based Materials and Machines Corp., which makes diagnostic systems. The company is making the device and test available immediately overseas, but still needs to go through a regulatory process in the U.S. through the Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. raises more than 115 million hogs valued at $24 billion a year. The Swine Disease Global Surveillance Project estimates U.S. outbreak of swine fever could wreak up to $10 billion in damages in a year.