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Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacting on the Risk of African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) Introduction Into the United States? A Short-Term Assessment of the Risk Factors

African swine fever (ASF) is a contagious disease with high mortality in domestic and feral swine populations. Although it is not a zoonosis, its spread may have severe socio-economic and public health consequences. The activities of veterinary services are essential for controlling ASF outbreaks within a country, but also for diminishing its threat of spread to neighbouring countries, and for recognizing its entry into countries that are currently free. ASF requires quick responses and permanent monitoring to identify outbreaks and prevent spread, and both aspects can be heavily undercut during the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper analyses changing patterns of the main drivers and pathways for the potential introduction of ASFV into the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, including international movements of people, swine products and by-products. Data on commercial flights and merchant ships was used as a proxy to indirectly assess the flow of illegal products coming from ASF affected countries. Results from this study highlight a decreasing trend in the legal imports of swine products and by-products from ASF affected countries (Sen's slope = -99, 95% CI: -215.34 to -21.26, p-value < 0.05), while no trend was detected for confiscations of illegal products at ports of entry. Additionally, increasing trends were detected for the monthly number of merchant ships coming from ASF affected countries (Sen's slope = 0.46, 95%CI 0.25-0.59), the monthly value of imported goods ($) through merchant ships (Sen's slope = 1513196160, 95%CI 1072731702-1908231855), and the monthly percentage of commercial flights (Sen's slope = 0.005, 95%CI 0.003-0.007), with the majority of them originating from China. Overall, the findings show an increased connection of the United States with ASF affected countries, highlighting the risk posed by ASF during a global public health crisis.

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