African Swine Fever

Map shows countries in Europe, Asia and African that have had swine fever outbreaks. Current outbreaks are shown in red. Countries with outbreaks between July 2018 and June 2019 that have since been resolved are in orange. (Map courtesy of International Organization for Animal Health and Mapchart.)

While pork producers around the globe continue to gather information on the dreaded swine disease African Swine Fever (ASF), most consumers and even grain farmers have failed to recognize how the disease might impact them.

One economist predicts if the disease should migrate to the U.S., for every $8 lost in the pork industry, $4 would be lost in corn prices and an additional $1.50 would be lost in soybean pricing, because grain markets rely heavily on the pork industry’s usage.

What is African swine fever? Where did it originate? How does it spread? Can it affect humans? and What is being done to eradicate it? Are all questions American consumers needs to ask, because in time, the disease may affect them.

According to reports, the origin of the hearty, viral disease has been traced back to East Africa in the early 1990s. The disease was transmitted by wild hogs and soft ticks in the African region and entered Eastern Europe through infected hogs.

The virus has since spread eastward invading swine herds in south Eastern Europe, Russia, China, and now is spreading into southern Asian Countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and even the Philippines.

The virus spreads rapidly and is contracted through direct or indirect contact with soft bodied ticks, infected swine or infected pork products.

Unlike the Swine Flu, which can be contacted by people, ASF can’t infect humans. However, people can spread the disease through clothing, footwear, vehicles or other in-direct methods of carrying the disease.

Some believe ASF’s quick advancement in Asian countries can be attributed to smaller herds, which are raised in open spaces, where wild hogs still exist and spread the fever. Outdoor hog production also gives soft-bodied ticks an opportunity to transmit the disease to swine herds.

Symptoms of the deadly disease, which generally reaches a morality rate of a 100 percent, are high fever, decreased appetite, reddened blotchy skin and blackened lesions in ears, on tails and lower legs. Hogs also cough and have difficulty breathing. Death comes within 6 to 13 days. To curtail the spread of the virus, animals are destroyed on site and carcasses are disposed.

It has been reported once the disease invades a country it spreads very rapidly. Millions of hog have already been destroyed in Asian countries and by some estimates China has lost around 40 percent of its swine herds, which is concerning since the Chinese rely heavily upon pork in their national diet. Pork prices have risen nearly 30 percent over the last year in China, which affects families and the national economy. Even American grain farmers have been impacted as less grain is exported to countries where swine herds have been eliminated.

To date, no reports of the disease have been reported in North America, but precautions are being taken. The U.S. is not allowing any swine or pork products to be imported into the country from nations where the disease has been reported, because the ASF can be transmitted through pork products. The USDA has developed response plans should the disease show up in the U.S.

Though researchers are working hard to develop a vaccine to combat the dreaded virus, nothing has been developed to prevent or cure the disease once it occurs. Should the disease reach North America, one of the greatest weapons against the spread of ASF will be biosecurity of hog facilities.

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