African Swine Fever has reached India. Outbreaks are reported in the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast of the country, leading to a current count of just over 2,900 dead pigs.
Especially the outbreaks in Assam province draw attention, as it is India’s most important pig state. Assam province, although relatively poor, had about 2.1 million pigs in 2019, which grew to 3.0 million this year, according to the Economic Times. The presence of pigs in Assam state is mainly related to the fact that a relatively large share of the population is buddhist.
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On May 5, the count of infected animals was at 2,904 pigs, according to the New Indian Express. Trial results, obtained by real time PCR and nucleotide sequencing analysis, confirmed that 17 samples from various locations in Assam state tested positive for the ASF virus genome.
Initial reports mentioned 306 villages in 6 districts of Assam, all near the Brahmaputra river, that runs from east to west through the state. More recent reports also state outbreaks near Guwahati and pigs dying in Majuli, again both nea the Brahmaputra river.
A report in the Telegraph India explains that the state government decided to send the samples for testing after pigs were found not recovering even after vaccination against Classical Swine Fever earlier.
The approach of the virus is overseen by Assam state’s chief minister Sarabanda Sonowal and the state’s minister for agriculture and animal husbandry, Atul Bora. Various restrictions were put in place, for example on the movement of pigs. Also a bailout package will be announced.
In a press conference last Sunday, Bora explained the strategy, which can be compared to the lockdown strategy to control Covid-19. The Economic Times quoted Bora saying, “We have discussed with experts whether we could save the pigs without culling them. The death percentage is almost 100%. So we have made some strategies to save the pigs that are not affected by the virus.”
Surveillance zones will be created around the infected areas, with testing occurring in a 1 km radius around the infected area. Bora said, “After testing, we will cull only those pigs that are infected. We will avoid immediate culling and we will receive daily updates, so we can take a decision as and when the situation demands.”
Meanwhile, Sonowal asked the veterinary and forest departments to work with National Pig Research Centre of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to draw a broad roadmap to save the state’s pig population from ASF.
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Arunachal Pradesh state is bordering both China and Myanmar and it looks likely that the virus travelled through this state in order to reach Assam. The nearest reported outbreak of African Swine Fever in China took place at 21 km from the border with Arunachal Pradesh and occurred over a year ago, on March 2, 2019, in Tibet province. It could be possible therefore that the outbreaks have been going on for some while before being confirmed, something Indian media seem to suggest.
The Indian media do not report a lot from this state, other than that altogether 11 out of 62 samples from Arunachal Pradesh were found positive for ASF virus.
So far the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has not shared any updates regarding these outbreaks.