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What does ASF mean for North America?

What does ASF mean for North America?

The disease can devastate herds, though it is hard to speculate on the likelihood of the disease reaching Canada or the U.S. 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

African Swine Fever continues to spread throughout Asia and Europe, decimating herds, a Dec. 10 report prepared by Justin Sherrard, the global strategist in animal protein for RaboResearch, stated.

Recent outbreaks in Poland and Serbia show that the disease is still being spread by human actions. It is predicted that 7.5 million pigs (27 per cent of the total herd) will be lost in Vietnam by the end of 2019, the report said.

So, what is the risk for American and Canadian pork producers?

 “Speculating on if we’re likely (to see ASF in North America) is really difficult. What I see as our biggest risk is that risk of somebody smuggling in meat from an infected pig,” Dr. Liz Wagstrom, the chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council, told

“The way that that would result in an outbreak is if either plate waste or scraps were to be fed to pigs or in a garbage dump where feral pigs could get to them,” she added. However, so far, food system biosecurity protocols have successfully prevented the spread of diseases.

“We’ve been successful for decades at keeping out foreign animal diseases. China has been positive forever for foot and mouth disease and classical swine fever. So I like to think that our protocols have been successful, not just that we’ve just been lucky,” Wagstrom said.  

“But we do have an increasing risk as (ASF) spreads throughout the world. It’s just more spots where people could be bringing it from,” she added.

The current prominent ASP genotype is “really virulent. Within days of exposure, (infected) pigs tend to have a fever, they’ll be lethargic, they don’t want to stand up, they don’t want to eat, and then it progresses to a hemorrhagic disease,” she explained.

“In this strain, it appears that mortality is up in that 90 per cent plus range,” she added. Infected pigs “die of bleeding out internally or through their orifices.”

Pigs may take several days to show symptoms. However, once infected, the disease progresses quickly.

 “Clinical signs start three to seven days maybe up to a little longer from the time they’re exposed. Once they get sick, they die fairly quickly – in just a few days,” Wagstrom explained.

However, the disease “can spread very slowly within a barn” especially if no fecal or nose-to-nose contact occurs between the pigs, Wagstrom said.

“The actual spread is not as explosive as what we’d see” with some other common swine diseases, she said. That fact does not mean that an ASF outbreak would be easy to control, however.

“If we get it in the United States, we’re going to have a challenge controlling (ASF). If we get it in the feral pigs it will be very, very difficult to control. If it’s in domestic pigs, because of the way we move pigs, we may be in a position where (the disease) could have moved to multiple states before it would be identified. And then, again, that becomes more challenging than just a single focal outbreak,” Wagstrom explained.

“We’re recommending that people consider, in their systems, how could they handle it if there is a ‘stop movement’ which the USDA has told us they would do to try to determine the scope of an outbreak.

“Those are things we need to think about if we’re going to try to control an outbreak. How do we either not move pigs or move pigs safely,” she added.

Those measures include having effective biosecurity protocols in place, individuals with expertise on the disease monitoring pigs, and lab capacity for testing, she explained.

It is no question that this strain of ASF will have a lasting effect on the global swine herd.

“I think the challenge is trying to determine how to replace just the vast quantity of pigs that have died,” Wagstrom said.

“We hear that repopulation of those sites in Asia has not been really successful,” she said. Sites with detailed, meticulous and lengthy disinfection protocol have found some success, although the process is time consuming. Simply cleaning out a barn and putting pigs back in it has not been effective, Wagstrom said.

dusanpetkovic\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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