African Swine Fever is advancing through Europe at an alarming rate. After its entry via Georgia in 2007, it has jumped 3,000km to Russia and has since been identified in wild boar in the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland. The spread has been particularly fast over the last 6 months and is especially concerning due to the high density of both pigs and wild boar in these East European regions. This has prompted worries of ASF transmission into neighbouring countries, notably Germany and Denmark. Indeed, the chief veterinarian of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council in Copenhagen, Jens Munk Ebbesen, stated that ASF "is the disease with the highest concern right now, no doubt about that” [Stokstad, 2017] and in Germany a controversial plan has been proposed by the German Farmers Association to cull 70% of the wild boar population and so attempt to halt the disease’s progression.
According to Government guidance, there has never been an outbreak of ASF in the UK, but it is labelled as an exotic notifiable disease here and it does pose a threat due to its highly contagious nature and recent rapid spread. As a result, in August 2017 the risk of an ASF outbreak in the UK has been raised from ‘very low’ to ‘low’ meaning that it is rare but could occur. It has been suggested that an outbreak of this disease here would be very damaging to UK pig farms with the Pig Veterinary Society President Mark White stating that ASF “would have an enormous impact on pigs in this country and would devastate our Pig Industry” [BVA.co.uk, 2017].
Although it does not have any zoonotic tendency, ASF has the potential to have substantial economic effects. Indeed, it has been predicted that in Denmark (a major exporter of pig-products) losses to the Pork Industry of around €336 million could be expected if as little as 0.16% of its farms become infected with the disease. On top of this, when ASF hit Estonia in 2015, 22,000 pigs were slaughtered, the prices of pork dropped dramatically and over a third of pig farms went out of business. From this, it is easy to formulate the threat to the UK pork market that this disease poses.
Vets have been advised by DEFRA to remind themselves of the clinical signs that ASF produces. It is a highly contagious arbovirus of pigs, characterised by haemorrhagic effects, high fever and a loss of appetite. However, there are many different strains of ASF which means that the disease may be sub-clinical, show some clinical signs or, in severe cases, can prove fatal.
Recently there has been a push to prevent farmers from feeding contaminated carcasses or human food waste to their pigs as this has been identified as a major transmission mechanism for the disease. Feeding human waste is illegal in Europe, but some farms and smallholdings still practice it, so a major concern is educating all who work with pigs of the potential risk that this creates. Other priorities include improving on-farm biosecurity, increased transport restrictions and education of UK pig farmers regarding ASF.
Furthermore, soft ticks of the genus ‘Ornithodoros’ have been identified as potential vectors of the disease. These ticks are present in parts of East Europe and so can act as reservoirs for ASF. This suggests that control mechanisms to prevent exposure to ticks should be put in place in pig herds in order to limit disease transmission via this route.
The key to control of this disease lies in the preventative measures being followed closely as no cure or vaccine currently exist. Therefore, although African Swine Fever is obviously a major issue to the Pig Industry all over Europe, it has been suggested that if the control measures identified were to be followed closely, further spread could be halted.
By Elizabeth Relph, 2nd Year Liverpool Vet Student
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African Swine Fever
Educating the Veterinary Students of Tomorrow