Warning of a likely imminent upsurge of a deadly pig disease in the Caucasus region and Russian Federation, FAO today called on affected countries to step up precautionary measures and for a concerted international effort to prevent the infection spreading more widely across the Northern Hemisphere.
“African swine fever is fast becoming a global issue,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer. “It now poses an immediate threat to Europe and beyond. Countries need to be on the alert and to strengthen their preparedness and contingency plans.”
Measures recommended for countries by FAO include risk analyses to evaluate the situation and assess potential consequences. Such analyses should pave the way for fully-fledged contingency plans and provide the rationale for selecting disease-control strategies.
Importantly, there is currently no vaccine for the disease, which is very often lethal to pigs but is not harmful to humans.
Preventive strategies include quarantine, on-farm security and other measures aimed at minimizing the risk of ASF being introduced and becoming established. Early-warning contingency plans include epidemiological information-gathering, training and awareness campaigns.
African Swine Fever (ASF) was introduced into Georgia from southern Africa late in 2006, entering through the Black Sea port of Poti, where garbage from a ship was taken to a dump where pigs came to feed. Currently, ASF is spreading northwards at the rate of roughly 350 km a year.
Outbreaks are distinctly seasonal, with the highest number of cases registered in the summer and autumn. But as the ASF wave travels northwards a separate phenomenon, long-distance “jumps", is also occurring.
For example in the spring of 2011 ASF suddenly appeared in the port of Murmansk, more than 3000 km from southern Russia, and close to the border with Finland. In 2009 it leaped 2000 kilometers to St Petersburg where, however, it appears to have been contained after a relapse at the end of 2010 and again in March 2011.
ASF long-distance jumps are food-borne, with virus surviving in pig meat products taken by travellers. At the destination, food scraps may be fed to pigs, setting off a new outbreak.
The frequency of such jumps is increasing as the originally-infected territory enlarges. The ASF virus strain now spreading is a very aggressive one.
ASF is now considered as being established in Georgia, Armenia and the southern part of the Russian Federation. And the number of long-distance outbreaks has increased this year.
Russia plans to set up a buffer zone next to the infected region, which may involve suspension of pig production in certain areas and measures directed at wild boar populations.
Still, progress will be difficult as farmers often appear not to be reporting ASF outbreaks for fear of seeing their pigs culled without adequate compensation.