ROME – The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation’s issued a warning about the rapid spread of African Swine Fever in China. The agency believes the detection of the deadly virus in areas more than 1,000 km apart within the country could spell trouble for other Asian countries.

“The movement of pig products can spread diseases quickly and, as in this case of African Swine Fever, it’s likely that the movement of such products, rather than live pigs, has caused the spread of the virus to other parts of China,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO’s chief veterinarian.

African Swine Fever is a hemorrhagic disease of pigs, warthogs, European wild boar and American feral pigs. ASF is highly contagious, and swine of all age groups are susceptible to it. Currently, there are no vaccines against the disease. Mortality rates in a swineherd can be as high as 100 percent, and death can occur within two to 10 days on average, according to the World Animal Health Organization (OIE). The virus isn’t harmful to humans and doesn’t represent a food safety risk.

Multiple outbreaks of ASF have been confirmed in China in recent weeks.

China’s first outbreak of ASF occurred in the city of Shenyang. Forty-seven pigs died from the disease, and 8,069 pigs were culled.

A second outbreak occurred more than 600 miles away in Zhengzhou, China. Officials said 30 out of 260 live hogs supplied by an independent live hog supplier in Jiamusi City, Heilongjiang Province, were found dead. The People’s Government of Zhengzhou Municipality issued a blockade order requiring WH Group to close a processing plant where the pigs were delivered for six weeks. The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture said officials in Heilongjiang are carrying out surveillance activities. Heilongjiang Province is roughly 1,500 miles away from Zhengzhou.

A third outbreak was reported on Aug. 19 at a farm in Lianyungang City, Jiangsu Province, involving 88 dead pigs. FAS said the second and third outbreaks are in the heart of China’s pork production region.

“These second and third outbreaks, centered in Henan and Jiangsu Provinces, represent a significant escalation of the outbreak situation,” FAS reported. “Unlike Liaoning Province, which only accounts for 3 percent of total swine production, Henan and Jiangsu Provinces account for over 10 percent and 4 percent of production, respectively. Moreover, these provinces are bordered by Hebei, Shandong, Anhui, and Hubei Provinces — accounting for another 19 percent.”

FAS noted that the slaughterhouse in Henan Province is located roughly 1,500 miles away from the suspect farm in Heilongjiang Province representing a 30-hour trip on a route that is heavily traveled by trucks moving pigs from Northeast China to Central China.

The Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) of the FAO is communicating closely with authorities in China to monitor the situation, the agency said. 

“FAO began working with China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs a few years ago and, together, we have set up an ASF contingency plan and developed diagnostic capacity,” said Wantanee Kalpravidh, FAO-ECTAD’s regional coordinator. “We have also jointly developed a Field Epidemiology Training Programme for Veterinarians which aims to strengthen epidemiological investigation, disease situation tracking, risk assessment and emergency preparedness.”

Read more about African Swine Fever in the September issue of MEAT+POULTRY.