African swine fever: why should we care?

pig laying in corn stalk beddingIn this day and age of global economies, we get inundated with all kinds of information of what is going on in the US and the world.  Not a day goes by that don’t hear about a natural disaster or disease outbreak in another country.  We hope the next disaster or disease won’t be here at home.

One disease that is currently on the watch list for many is African swine fever (ASF), a deadly, highly contagious, viral disease that affects pigs.  The challenge with ASF is that it can spread very rapidly from pig to pig either via direct contact or indirect routes, primarily via ticks or fomites.  Fomites are inanimate objects that may carry a disease such as boots, vehicles, or feed.  Research has shown that viral shedding and transmission can occur for at least 70 days post-inoculation in an experimental setting.  This is NOT a zoonotic disease, so humans are not affected by this virus.  Currently there is no cure for ASF, nor are there any vaccinations to prevent infections.  The only currently viable solution is eradication of infected animals.

As the name implies, this virus’s home territory is in African countries.  Wild pigs, warthogs, and other animals in the Suidae (pig) family can be reservoirs of the ASF virus, although they may not show signs of illness.  Like many diseases, there are different strains of ASF which can lead to 100% mortality to only exhibiting signs of minor illness.

Some research in domestic pigs shows that ASF virsus can linger in tissues of pigs for three to six months.  The virus can lurk in uncooked pork products, which can facilitate the spread of the disease to previously uninfected areas.  This is one reason why the US is so tough on not allowing “unapproved” or “unregulated” food items through airport security or other points of entry into the US.

Keep abreast of global happenings

As the Chinese swine herd continues to be decimated by ASF, US markets are being affected.  China is the number one importer of soybeans in the world.  As swine herd numbers in China decrease, so does the demand for raw commodity products like soybeans.  In November 2018, China imported zero soybeans from the US as demand was down due to lower pig numbers and tariff pressure was providing incentive for the Chinese to buy Brazilian soybeans.

Another issue is the US imports a lot of vitamin premixes and other feed ingredients from China… a concerning potential biosecurity issue with ASF running rampant across the country.  As we learned with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), even really good biosecurity can have fine cracks in it, that in the end, let a biosecurity issue like PEDv through.  The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus was thought to have come to the US from China via feed ingredients, so we don’t want to repeat mistakes of the past.

Since ASF is considered a foreign animal disease, it is a reportable disease to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), so if there is any suspicion of ASF present in a herd or animals at a abattoir presenting signs that look like ASF, steps would be immediately taken to eradicate any potential threat.  If testing came back as ASF, movement of ALL swine would come to a halt- and that has big implications for abattoirs and farmers alike- to the tune of about $8 billion dollars in the first year.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension provides research-based information to help citizens of Wisconsin make informed decisions based on science.  UW-Extension extends the boundaries of the university to the boundaries of the state, helping the people of Wisconsin and beyond access university resources and engage in learning, wherever they live or work.


Note: This article originally was published in the Marquette County Tribune, Waushara Argus, and/or the Berlin Journal.  This article was written by Lyssa Seefeldt, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent for Marquette County unless otherwise noted.