KANSAS CITY, Mo. – No one wants to cause panic in the US pork industry. However, some members of the research community say pork producers need to be vigilant and industry stakeholders should engage in a rational discussion about African Swine Fever (ASF) prevention and preparedness.

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. 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.

ASF is a reportable disease listed in the Terrestrial Animal Health Code of the OIE. An outbreak of ASF in the United States would be devastating — unlike the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), African Swine Fever would bring an immediate halt to US exports of pork products, says Prof. James A. Roth, DVM, Ph.D., of the College of Veterinary Science at the Iowa State Univ.

“PED was terrible, but it was not listed as a foreign animal disease by the World Organization for Animal Health,” he says. “So, it didn’t shut down most of our exports, [but] African Swine Fever would, so that’s one big difference.”

Two other diseases could shut down US pork exports — foot-and-mouth disease which affects all livestock, and Classical Swine Fever which only affects pigs. There are vaccines for both of those diseases.

“African Swine Fever, there’s no vaccine anywhere in the world,” Roth explains. “Researchers have been working on it, but it’s a very difficult virus, and no one has succeeded in making a commercialized vaccine. So that means the only way to deal with African Swine Fever is to depopulate all the herds that are affected, and might be affected, in the area.”

An especially troubling characteristic of this hardy virus is that it can survive in feed ingredients — including feed ingredients exported to the United States.

In 2014, Dr. Scott Dee, DVM, director of the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic in Pipestone, Minnesota, and his colleagues conducted research on the viability of PEDv in animal feed. “It was so intriguing that we thought ‘what about other viruses?’”, he says. “That’s when we expanded it to the next phase and tested another 11 viruses under similar conditions.”

Dee says characteristics of the ASF virus revealed in the model surprised him. “In all the other viruses we worked with, it didn’t survive in the absence of a feed matrix,” he notes.

“It shows how stable this thing really is; there are many ways it’s going to move around,” Dee adds. “That’s why I’m worried about the fact that it’s now in China.”

Look for the September issue of MEAT+POULTRY magazine to read more about this deadly swine disease and steps industry organizations are taking to prevent it from entering the United States.