Disease can be tricky to diagnose, but vets say up to the task

Dr. Egan Brockhoff is likely one of the few swine veterinarians in Canada who has seen African swine fever first-hand in pigs.

The veterinarian consultant with the Canadian Pork Council travels extensively in his work as an expert in swine illnesses and has seen the ravages imposed by the virus on pigs in other countries. Would Canada’s veterinarians recognize ASF if it ever infected domestic pigs?

Yes, says Brockhoff.

Yes, says Canadian Pork Council executive director John Ross.

Yes, says Alberta Pork quality assurance manager Javier Bahamon.

Yes, says Manitoba Pork manager of swine health programs Jenelle Hamblin.

But none of them ever want to see it.

“The goal of everybody has always been to try to eradicate it or keep it out. That should always be your goal,” said Brockhoff.

ASF does not affect people, but it is highly contagious and deadly to pigs and there is no vaccine.

Symptoms include high fever, loss of appetite, bleeding under the skin and in internal organs, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and breathing difficulties. Death typically comes within two to 10 days.

“ASF is an ugly disease to see,” Brockhoff says.

But ASF is tricky, he adds. It is clinically indistinguishable from classical swine fever, a virus that can be treated effectively with vaccines. However, ASF is a completely different and unrelated virus to classical swine fever.

“Typically an African swine fever outbreak in a classical swine fever positive barn will be extremely severe and the producer will tell you it looks like classical swine fever.”

However, vaccines will have no effect on ASF, and perceived vaccine failure is often how it is identified.

Ross said Canada’s veterinary community is up to the task of identifying illness.

“We do have a very knowledgeable group of veterinarians, and while they perhaps haven’t seen (ASF) in their lifetimes, they’re quick to recognize disease. They’re quick to take the measures necessary.”

As well, Ross said producers are professional in their approach and are quick to contact their veterinarian about any swine health issues.

“We’re blessed by geography. We’re blessed by knowledge. The vast bulk of hog production in Canada is undertaken in larger professional commercial operations. There’s a lot of those things that we have in our favour, and if you contrast that with some of the challenges that you have in China, our ability to recognize that disease and quickly react to it is probably a little bit better than what we might see in other countries.”

Bahamon agreed.

“Anything that is odd … they call the vet,” he said about producers.

“We have good swine vets here that work closely together. And I think we are good on farm biosecurity. PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea virus) was a huge lesson, so people are more aware.”

Hamblin, who works in a province that has battled PED, agreed that experience has reinforced many producers’ biosecurity protocols. A new potential threat means they can never let down their guard.

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