The recent increase and spread of outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) in Central and Eastern Europe has prompted the authorities in a number of European Union countries to remind the pig sector to be on the alert for signs of the disease and to tighten up on biosecurity measures.
Germany’s federal ministry of food and agriculture, Bundesministerium fur Ernahrung und Landwirtschaft (BMEL) has issued a warning to the German pig industry, explaining that outbreaks appear to be becoming more frequent and widespread in the Baltic States, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. This increases the infection pressure and the risk of outbreaks in other EU countries.
In Germany, an outbreak could have severe economic consequences, in addition to losses of infected animals. Control of any infection would be particularly difficult in view of Germany’s wild boar population, according to BMEL.
While ASF does not affect humans, it can spread very easily to members of the pig family very easily by direct and indirect contact.
Signs of the disease are variable, warns BMEL, ranging from very severe to mild, such as fever, weakness, loss of appetite, difficulties in moving and respiratory signs. Diarrhea and loss of blood may also be seen. All types and ages of pigs may be affected, and nearly all infected pigs die within seven to 10 days of infection.
Many people who work on pig farms in Denmark are nationals of other European countries, including Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States, where there have been recent ASF outbreaks. This has led the national pig knowledge center, Videncenter for Svineproduktion (VSP), to urge Danish pig farmers to be especially vigilant about these workers and their vehicles when they return from summer vacation. It advises that vehicles are properly cleaned and disinfected before the employees resume work.
In response to news of ASF outbreaks in Poland and Lithuania in early July, the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency(APHA) warned the country’s pig keepers to be on alert for signs of the disease in their animals and to maintain tight biosecurity, including the swill feeding ban. However, APHA maintained that the risk of introducing the disease to the UK is “very low,” it defines as “rare but it could occur.”
Update on recent ASF outbreaks in Europe
Of most concern to the Western European pig industry is the spread of ASF in EU member states, Poland and Lithuania. Lithuania has been battling ASF since January of 2014, and recent cases have been reported by the veterinary authority to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Across four Eastern and Central European counties over the last 3 months, 12 small herds of domestic pigs have been affected, although the majority of outbreaks involved wild boar.
There are worrying signs of a spread of ASF in Poland, which reported its first outbreaks in May 2015. Now totaling 107 in total, early outbreaks were generally confined to wild boar in Podlaskie province, a known hot-spot for the disease that borders Belarus and Lithuania where the virus is known to be circulating. However, in June, ASF was found in pig farms in the neighboring province of Lublin. So far this year, 13 Polish farms have confirmed outbreaks in herds ranging in size from 14 to 540 animals.
Many wild boar have been affected by ASF in Russia since it first reported outbreaks of the disease in early 2014. Multiple new cases have been reported to the OIE on an almost weekly basis, including small backyard and village herds, in 17 regions over the last 3 months alone. Also affected have been 11 farms, most with a couple of hundred animals. However, 3 large farms have been wiped out by the disease, the most recent being a facility in Kursk region at the end of July, where 18,317 animals had to be destroyed after the deaths of a further 23 were confirmed as due to ASF. A month previously, a herd of 9,865 pigs were lost to the disease in the region of Moscow.
Also in a long-running battle to control ASF, Ukraine has reported 19 ASF outbreaks to the OIE over the last three months in six provinces. Five farms ranging in size from 56 to 700 pigs have lost their herds to the disease since early June. Three of the most recent outbreaks weren’t revealed until pigs that had been buried illegally tested positive for the virus.
Latest ASF situation in Africa
After an absence of 4 years, ASF was reported in South Africa in May this year in areas outside the national control zone for the disease. The first cases were in a village herd in North West Province, but all the other six more recent outbreaks have been on farms in Free State. In all, 1,177 pigs have been affected, the majority of which died.
Based on OIE reports, other African countries previously reporting ASF appear to have been clear of the disease in recent months. Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) experienced 2 outbreaks in 2015 but none since May last year. In February 2016, Kenya reported one outbreak on a farm where swill was fed, and 2 farms were affected in Burundi around the same time. There have been no reported cases in either country since then.