by George Looby
African Swine Fever (ASF) has yet to be found in the United States but it poses an ongoing threat to the swine industry of this country. If it were ever to become established here it would have the potential to devastate one of the major components of this country’s agricultural economy. At this point there is no effective treatment available and no vaccine available to control it. It is a viral disease that can be spread in many ways, which makes it difficult to control. Direct contact between infected and susceptible animals is the most obvious method of spread but there are other less obvious means of contagion.
Those who have visited countries where the disease is prevalent can unknowingly bring back the virus on articles of clothing or shoes if they have visited farms where infected swine are housed. A less obvious way of transmitting may be where pork products from infected swine are purchased to be brought back to the U.S. for consumption. This may done by individuals who are completely unaware they are transporting a product that may pack a potential lethal problem to the pigs back home. As best as is known right now, humans consuming such pork products are at no risk of contracting the disease.
China is a major swine producer and the disease is already established there. There are concerns that the incidence there may be considerably higher than government officials are willing to admit. There was an instance where over one million pounds of pork was smuggled into the U.S. from China which was detected by regulatory personnel. One of the important parts of the detection process are teams of beagles, which are specifically trained to detect pork coming into the country illegally. There will soon be a total of 179 teams of beagles stationed at key commercial, seaport and airport entries ensuring that travelers who pose an ASF risk receive a secondary agricultural inspection.
To the untrained eye a sick pig is a sick pig (and sometimes even to the trained eye), so specific laboratory testing is usually necessary to determine the cause of an illness. Symptoms include elevated temperature, decreased appetite and weakness, red/blotchy skin lesions, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing. Workers at Kansas State and other institutions are actively pursuing means of detecting and diagnosing this disease as well as developing an effective vaccine which would have important implications in those parts of the world where this deadly disease already exists.
An interesting consideration that has come out of the work at Kansas State is the potential impact of imported feed acting as a carrier for the ASF virus and its impact on the industry. Studies are being conducted to see if the virus survives in grains that might be imported and if so, if storage has an impact on their virulence.
Prevention by exclusion is the best means of controlling this disease but in the event that current control methods fail, the UDSA has an emergency plan in place. It is continually being revised and updated to reflect the best current information about the disease. The testing capacity of the network of National Animal Health Laboratories is being expanded continually in order to deal with any outbreak quickly. Potential positive pigs should be reported as rapidly as possible to appropriate state and federal authorities. The more quickly a disease is detected and evaluated, the less will be the impact on other producers in the same area.
All producers should have a biosecurity manager who is responsible for educating personnel about the protocols in place for that farm and to ensure those rules are strictly adhered to – no deviations or modifications allowed. A log should be maintained that records every visitor to the farm with reasons for the visit and any other pertinent data. Veterinarians should be aware that ASF is a notifiable disease in the United States and suspicious cases should be reported to appropriate authorities.