African swine fever virus

African swine fever virus causes hemorrhagic fever and high mortality in pigs. It is not present in the U.S. but has spread throughout China, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Those involved in the swine industry – from producers, to packers to veterinaries – spent the last few days preparing for something they hope they never have to deal with – handling an African swine fever outbreak.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture organized an exercise Sept. 23-26 that had those in the swine industry walk through possible scenarios should the disease that’s sweeping Asia make it to American soil.

“We’re trying to be prepared for what we hope doesn’t come,” said Glenn Muller, executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, the week before the exercise.

He was in Pierre for the event, where Day 1 included a tabletop demonstration with a replica of a rural setting with hog barns, feed bills, packing plants and veterinary services. The group looked at ways to isolate the disease by limiting traffic in the area.

The second day involved visiting a farm to decide how they could contain the disease on site.

This is the third such exercise South Dakota industry leaders have staged, but this one in the most involved. Fourteen states across the country are participating in the mock response. Each state has a response plan for dealing with foreign animal disease and gets guidance from USDA.

Similar exercises in the past have focused on foot and mouth disease.

The goal is to isolate sick pigs quickly and regionalize movement of pigs – to continue moving healthy pigs from barn to barn and to market.

Disease outbreaks used to shut down borders and stop movement of animals entirely, state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said, but now they recognize that they can’t shut down interstate movement of animals for very long.

“We don’t want to kill the industry while killing the disease,” he said.

Also part of the four-day exercise is a webinar with USDA officials that will give an update on the agency’s anticipated response. USDA has authority to implement restrictions on transporting pigs.

The industry is also learning from swine companies that have operations in countries where African swine fever has been an issue, Oedekoven said. They’re studying the response in the Philippines, where the disease was successfully eradicated after an outbreak.

It’s helpful to know what the best practices are and also what doesn’t work, Oedekoven said.

Muller said such an exercise gives them a good base for responding to the diseases. It allows those in the industry to visualize what the implications would be if African swine fever hits.

“It helps us have a blueprint for where we can and cannot move pigs,” he said. “It helps us find a pathway that we can isolate the virus, should it come.”

“We have to have a process in place,” he added.

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Janelle is editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, covering South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa and northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at or follow on Twitter @JLNeighbor