Emerging diseases: African Swine Fever

Memories of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 will still remain firmly fixed in many farmers’ minds, but with threats of new and emerging exotic diseases coming into the UK, it’s vital farmers remain vigilant. As part of Farmers Weekly’s survey of those diseases, Sarah Trickett speaks to Chris Oura, of the Institute of Animal Health, about the rise of African Swine Fever.

The origin given away in its name, African swine fever poses a real threat to the UK’s pig industry following a recent outbreak in Georgia. And with no cure or vaccine for the highly contagious virus that kills nearly all pigs that catch it, it’s important the threat is taken seriously.

“This notifiable disease has been confined to Africa for more than 20 years and arrived unexpectedly in Georgia in 2007 – this is a typical example of how globalisation can result in the spread of disease,” says Dr Oura.

The virus is believed to have been transported to Georgia by boats containing contaminated pork meat. Since arriving it has spread nearly 2000km up to northern Europe and is now only 100km away from the European border.

African Swine Flu 
African Swine Flue virus is highly contagious, killing nearly all pigs that catch it.

The virus causes internal bleeding and pigs appear lethargic, stop eating and will often have red patches on the skin and around the ears, with symptoms usually appearing five to 15 days after infection. “Death usually follows between one to seven days after appearance of the illness,” he says.

However, an additional problem with the virus is the fact it can be transmitted by soft ticks. “Soft ticks are the reason it has be maintained in Africa for so long. It took more than 30 years to eradicate it from Spain and Portugal following its arrival in the 1950s because ticks are able to survive with the virus for many years – however, we don’t yet know if the virus is present in these ticks in Georgia.”

But, although this disease may not yet be in Western Europe, it is still vital farmers remain vigilant.

“My advice is to be careful about importing pigs from areas near where the disease is circulating and maintain biosecurity. There is no vaccine for the disease yet although work is being done to produce one, so upping vigilance will be vital to keep it out. It’s not going to be flying in like bluetongue, but it could well arrive in the UK from imported products or live pigs,” says Dr Oura.

More on African Swine Fever

Get the latest news about ASF and what you can do to prevent the virus entering your farm with the Pig Progress African Swine Fever information hub.