African Swine Fever Increasingly Threatens Pork in North America and Globally
Posted on August 13, 2021
The African Swine Fever Virus (ASF) is a highly contagious hemorrhagic virus that exclusively infects pigs. Some farmers have experienced nearly 100% loss of herds, and the impact has expanded globally across Europe and Asia. In early August, the Dominican Republic identified two cases of ASF. Now that the virus has moved closer to the US, diligence to protect North American herds is more important than ever. The cases in the Dominican Republic are the first known detections of ASF in the Americas in 40 years, and there has never been a confirmed case in the US. Prevention, identification, and containment are the best ways to save the swine population from infection as there is no vaccine or treatment currently available.
"We need to take African Swine Fever seriously," says ND State Veterinarian and Animal Health Division Director Dr. Ethan Andress. "ND has a significant number of pigs, and although there is not a human risk, the economic and swine impact could be devastating both locally and nationally to the swine industry." Greater care should be taken from travelers and veterinarians to ensure proper sanitation to ensure infected items do not make it into the US. "We saw what happened in China with the devastation to their hog populations, we don't want that to happen here, and prevention is our best course of action," says Dr. Andress. The 2018 outbreak of ASF in China spread across the region and has reduced the global pig herds by nearly 25%, and they are now facing variants and additional waves.
"As the world opens up to international travelers, it is important that anyone visiting agriculture or food processing facilities take caution and thoroughly clean any items worn during their visit before returning to the US," says Drew Combs, the Executive Director of the North Dakota Trade Office. These practices are essential to keeping unwanted viruses such as ASF from infecting other countries. The long lifespan of the virus contributes to the importance of good hygiene and sanitization of anything that could potentially come in contact with ASF.
What makes this virus particularly challenging to eradicate is its stability. Studies presented by the ND Livestock Alliance show that the virus can remain stable for 150 days in bones stored below 40⁰ F, 140 days in dried and salted ham, and can live for several years in frozen meat. The virus can also spread through animal feed and fertilizers. The incubation period is 5-21 days and can move more quickly when acquired by tick bites—the transmission from swine to swine occurs through bodily secretions and excretions, particularly through the nose and mouth. The animals, feed, and their products must be sanitized and closely monitored for spread.
Tamera Heins, the Executive Director of the ND Pork Council, explains, "security will be amped up in airports for any travelers from the Dominican Republic to ensure ASF does not get through." Amber Boeshans, the Executive Director of the ND Livestock Alliance, highlights that the "African Swine Fever only causes illness in pigs and this is not a threat to human health. We want to continuously remind export partners and our consumers here at home that US pork products are safe to eat. However, the US hog industry moves around the country quite frequently. We all need to be doing our part to keep biosecurity as tight as possible. Following the best practices and going the extra mile to ensure we are minimizing this health risk to America's pig herd." Making sure that clothing, especially shoes, are sanitized will be essential to keep this virus out of North America.
If ASF reaches the US, pork exports will cease, feed exports will also be halted, and swine sales will significantly decrease. There will also be impacts on the native herds with higher mortality rates, and commodity prices will see a deep drop in pork and feed-related products. Containment and diligence are needed to control borders. The US, Canada, and Mexico have already increased their efforts after the Dominican Republic outbreak.
Tackling ASF globally is a collaborative effort using both private and public resources to spread the word, not the virus. The measures put in place by the National Pork Industry Board should be followed to combat the exposure and spread of the virus. This includes sanitization of clothing, equipment, and other items used in the processing, research, laboratories, and fresh animal producers.