A regional emergency meeting convened by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) took place today in Bangkok, which included veterinary authorities and many other stakeholders from 12 countries, including the private sector, ASF experts, and representatives of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
The topic was African Swine Fever (ASF), which officials say is accelerating and will almost certainly emerge in other countries in Asia. In addition, it was stated that ASF is “here to stay”.
ASF arrived in China in early August and since then 13 outbreaks have been recorded in different area of the country, in some cases more than one-thousand kilometers apart.
ASF poses no direct health threat to humans; however, in its most virulent strain, it is 100 percent fatal to infected pigs.
It is a major threat to the swine industry and to the livelihoods of small scale farmers and others along the value chain. China produces half of the world’s pigs – with a current population of some 500-million swine.
“The most likely explanation, and the reason for the vast distances the virus has traveled, is through processed or raw pork products and less likely through the movement of live animals,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “The virus is very robust and can survive for weeks or months when it is used in cured or salted pork or when it is used in animal feed or swill.”
Because pork is produced and consumed by so many Asian countries, particularly in East and Southeast Asia, the introduction of the virus to other countries of the region is a near certainty, experts have said on the final day of the FAO-convened emergency meeting.
“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing so far is just the tip of the iceberg,” Lubroth said. “The geographical spread, of which ASF has been repeated in such a short period of time, means that transboundary emergence of the virus, likely through movements of products containing infected pork, will almost certainly occur. So it’s no longer ‘if’ that will happen but when, and what we can do collaboratively to prevent and minimize the damage.”
China and FAO have been working together, over a period of several years, in anticipation that ASF would one day arrive in the country and have developed protocols and detection plans. These have helped veterinary authorities and others to respond quickly and isolate areas where ASF detections have occurred. To date, nearly 40,000 infected animals have been culled in efforts to limit the spread.
“The Chinese authorities have taken this outbreak very seriously and have been very proactive in sharing information and their lessons learned with FAO and neighbouring countries about the spread of the virus and their actions so far,” said Wantanee Kalpravidh, FAO’s Asia Regional Manager of its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD).
ASF is a highly contagious, generalized disease of pigs caused by an Iridovirus of family Asfarviridae that exhibits varying virulence between strains and is very hardy to physical and chemical inactivation. The agent can remain viable for long periods in blood, feces and tissues. It can also multiply in its vectors.
It most commonly appears in the acute form as a hemorrhagic fever. Subacute and chronic forms of the disease also exist. Mortality is usually close to 100 percent and pigs of all ages are affected.
ASF is considered endemic in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It is now established beyond Africa, in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. In the past, the virus was already detected outside Africa from the 1950s to the 1980s in Europe, the Caribbean and Brazil. The disease was effectively eradicated from outside of Africa with the exception of the Italian island of Sardinia, which remains endemic.