African swine fever could be tough to control

A European veterinarian says biosecurity includes strong perimeter fences around hog farms, which are rare in Canada

RED DEER — African swine fever is not likely to strike Canadian hog farms but if the deadly disease should appear, it could be uncontrollable.

“Canada is no more at risk than it ever has been,” said Dr. John Carr, a European veterinary swine specialist.

The greatest threat could be at the borders where security officials need to be on the alert. People could bring potentially infected meat with them when they travel, he said at the Red Deer swine technology workshop held Oct. 24.

Swine can pick up the virus by eating contaminated feed including garbage or swill as well as direct contact with people or other animals carrying the disease.

While the disease has been found in wild boars, the greater threat is the transport of contaminated meat and meat products, which spreads the disease long distances.

“The disease travels about five kilometres a year. Unfortunately, people travel 100 km-h,” he said.

The Japanese found the virus in pork smuggled from China where the disease is ravaging hog farms.

It is suspected the disease landed in the Eurasian country of Georgia when a ship from Africa dumped waste that outdoor pigs eventually consumed.

Eastern European truck drivers deliver goods across the continent and it is theorized they carry food for personal use and throw unwanted bits away. Wild boars then eat it and get sick.

China has been hard hit, reporting its first cases last August. The Chinese tried to contain the outbreak north of the Yangtze River but failed with cases reported in mid October.

China is killing every pig within three km from an infected farm.

“So if you don’t have an infected case and your neighbour has an infected case you lose your farm anyway,” Carr said.

There is no vaccine and the disease is highly contagious among domestic pigs and wild boars. It is endemic among swine in sub-Saharan Africa and Sardinia.

The first sign is a high fever of 40 C or more. The few animals that survive can continue to excrete the virus, said Carr. Animals can show signs of sore joints and the sick may fall over. In finishing barns there is a lot of bloody diarrhea. Sows abort. Infected pigs die quickly.

In one client’s barn, Carr saw 10 die on Monday, 36 die on Wednesday and 76 die on Friday.

Post-mortem results show enlarged spleens, hemorrhages on the kidneys and sometimes the heart.

There are some diseases that look similar, such as classical swine fever, which has appeared in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Serious biosecurity is needed including strong perimeter fences around farms. Pigs can burrow and jump fences.

“You need a perimeter fence. Almost nobody in Canada has a perimeter fence,” Carr said.

“We have zero biosecurity in this country against this pathogen.”

Rabobank, in its quarterly pork report, said global pork markets are at risk because the disease is disrupting traditional trade flows and heightens biosecurity concerns.

African swine fever found in wild boars in Belgium in September resulted in a quarantine of the region and 16 countries banned trade with it. These situations are forcing businesses to reconsider plans.

“With an eye towards large potential losses, both exporters and importers are re-evaluating 2019 production needs,” said Rabobank.

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