The consistent spread of the African swine fever is giving Global Health Officials cause for worry. The fever has been spreading cross borders since 2014 and finally reached Western Europe last week
Humans are suspected to have caused the recent spread to Belgium, where eight cases were confirmed, as of September 25, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
The most recent cases, however, were reported September 25 in a Chinese slaughterhouse in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, according to the organization. There have been 29 outbreaks in China since the first case was reported August 3. China has culled nearly 40,000 pigs in response, according to the organization’s database.
Fears over the spread in Western Europe
The virus arrived in Western Europe for the first time in September in a separate simultaneous outbreak suffered also in China, leaving officials worried.
As of Friday, Belgium had culled 4,000 domestic pigs from the Étalle region, according to the country’s national federation of slaughterhouses, cutting plants and wholesalers for pork. Thirteen countries have banned some sort of pork imports from Belgium: Taiwan, South Korea, Serbia, Singapore, China, Belarus, Australia, Japan, Philippines, Mexico, Uruguay, Malaysia, and India.
‘An outbreak of African swine fever is a very serious event,’ said Matthew Stone, the World Organisation for Animal Health’s deputy director general for international standards and science. ‘The authorities of countries affected are under extraordinary pressure.’
Globally, more than 361,000 infected wild boars and domestic pigs have been reported to the organization, with more than 119,000 deaths in 2018. The fever does not affect humans.
The disease is characterized by pigs developing hemorrhaging lesions on their skin and internal organs and is transmitted through contact with the infected animal’s bodily fluids.
All cases can result in death within 10 days of infection, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Financial consequences of an outbreak are substantial. Once the virus has been detected on a pig farm, the entire population must be culled.
The toll in Europe
Pork exports make up 8.5% of the European Union’s total agricultural industry and 62% of the bloc’s total meat exports, according to a 2016 US Department of Agriculture report
The first case was reported in January near the Ukrainian border, and Romania has reported over 900 outbreaks since, mostly among backyard farm animals. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania have reported over 355,000 cases between them since 2014.
African swine fever, which affects only wild boars, warthogs, bush pigs, and domestic pigs, is endemic in sub-Saharan and West Africa and was first detected in Kenya in 1921.
Humans were the ‘most likely route of infection’ for the boars in Belgium last week, believes Linda Dixon, a researcher in genomics of African swine fever at the Pirbright Institute in the UK.
The Schengen arrangement that allows humans to travel through 26 countries without checks or regulation is a major factor that officials find challenging in their efforts to curb this threat.
There are no risks associated with eating infected meat, Dixon said
Climate change and ‘absolutely different weather conditions’ have helped African swine fever spread, he said, explaining that the virus is a very heat- and cold-resistant one.