African Swine Fever: risk level raised

Posted on August 18, 2017 by Mark Ec White

ASF blogDefra has announced that the risk of an incursion of African Swine Fever in the UK has risen from ‘Very Low’ to ‘Low’ following geographical spread of the disease and an increased weight of infection in Eastern Europe. Cases have now been reported in the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland as the disease moves South and West. It is of particular concern that spread to the Czech Republic has ‘jumped’ a country which suggests a new route of infection.

How it has spread

Most cases have been in Wild Boar, but there have been a significant number of cases identified in back yard sites and a small number of commercial herds. The route of spread in most cases has been through contact with wild boar carriers and represent a lapse in biosecurity measures to prevent infections entering premises. However, some cases have arisen through animals being fed food waste (swill) which is contaminated with infected meat.

Food waste may be kitchen scraps, catering waste or manufactured products containing infected meat. This would include vegetarian or vegan products as cross contamination can occur. Live virus particles have also been found on food packaging at one of the infected commercial herds. It is strongly advised that anyone with direct contact with pigs washes their hands after eating and before further contact with pigs.

It is illegal to feed food waste of any description in the UK and the consequences can be very serious, including risking a fatal disease in the pigs in question. A pig farmer was successfully prosecuted in July this year for feeding waste sandwiches and pies to his pigs and it is very fortunate that the consequences were not more serious. If you are aware that any pig keeper is feeding food waste to their animal(s), please inform trading standards. All vets must advise their clients accordingly to avoid.

Concerns of spread

There is real concern that this disease will continue to spread west to involve countries with a high density of wild boar such as Germany. In the UK, we are known to have several breeding colonies of wild boar or feral pigs in areas such as the Forest of Dean, Sussex, Kent, Dorset, Central Perthshire, Dumfriesshire and Lochaber. If you are suspicious of the presence of this disease you are legally obligated to report it to your local animal health and welfare services, in able to monitor this disease and members of the public should be advised that they must not feed these animals, particularly with food waste and that they should ensure that wild or feral pigs cannot gain access to domestic or catering waste in garbage.

Signs and symptoms of African Swine Fever

The signs of African Swine Fever can be found on Defra's website: African swine fever: how to spot and report the disease. 

Pigs with clinical African Swine Fever most commonly show signs of fever, inappetance, lack of energy and sudden death.  There may also be signs of vomiting, diarrhoea, red or dark skin, laboured breathing or coughing, abortion stillbirths and weak piglets born. This is a rapidly spreading disease.

There is no risk to human health from this disease, but it could have an enormous impact on pigs in this country in this country and would devastate our pig industry. This would have a consequential impact on the cost of pig meat to consumers.

Mark EC White

Written by Mark EC White

BVSc LLB DPM FRCVS

Mark White currently works as a Pig Specialist Veterinary Consultant following retirement from general practice in 2013 after 30 years. He is currently serving a second term as Pig Veterinary Society President (May 2017 - April 2018) having previously served in 1999-2000.