SHIC and the UMN Help Uncover Risk for ASF Introduction into the US via Air Passengers’ Luggage

In 2018, African swine fever (ASF) spread into Western Europe, and, for the first time, into China and Southeast Asia. Such dramatic change in the global epidemiological conditions of ASF has resulted in concerns the disease may continue to spread into disease-free regions, such as the US. An analysis funded by the Swine Health Information Center and National Pork Board estimated the risk for introduction of ASF virus into the US through smuggling of pork in air passengers’ luggage. The analysis was conducted by the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota (OIE collaborating center on capacity building) and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain (OIE reference laboratory for ASF).

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African Swine Fever (ASF) Reported in Vietnam

This report was published by the Swine Health Information Center on February 19th, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, Swine Disease Global Surveillance group.

Although it has not been officially reported to the OIE, the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) Animal Health Department released a communication confirming that ASF has been detected in two provinces in northern Vietnam, Hung Yen and Thai Binh, southeast of the capital city of Hanoi and at approximately 100 miles (160 km) from the Chinese border (Maps 1,2). Eight outbreaks have been reported, and all pigs in the affected farms have been culled. Neighboring farms are being tested as well. Local authorities initiated general measures to contain the outbreaks and disinfect the area through quarantine and restrictions of animal movements, but, so far, the total number of cases is still uncertain.

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African Swine Fever: economics versus pathology

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week, Dr. John Deen compares the consequences of African Swine Fever based on its pathogenicity and its economic impact on the swine industry.

Keypoints

  • The disease appears to be relatively easy to identify, control and eradicate in the US
  • Introduction of African Swine Fever (ASF) would result but relatively few infected pigs
  • The immediate loss of export markets would nonetheless result in catastrophic economic losses

The establishment of ASF in pig populations in Eastern Europe and China has significantly increased the likelihood of the introduction into the US pig population. Its ability to survive for long times in a variety of materials, including pork products, makes it a real threat to travel the distance and infect US pigs. Indeed, with the trillions of ASF viral particle already produced, it is not hard to imagine that one or more of them has already found its way to North America, but subsequently did not find its way into a pig.

The multiple effects of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID’s), especially hemorrhagic diseases such as ASF, have been mostly studied in human populations, but many of the generalities are appropriate in our preparations.Over the past 9 years the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine has led efforts in capacity building in USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats program of USAID. This, in turn, was part of the a broader set of efforts called the Global Health Security Agenda, which expends billions of dollars annually to control and prevent diseases such as MERS, Ebola and SARS.

In negotiating, planning and implementing strategies I came to a number of realizations, but a few came up repeatedly.The first is that population or public health is in short supply in many parts of the world. It is a central part of our swine medicine, but those thought processes are often not evident in human medicine, outside agencies such as the CDC.Many countries lack the luxury of such capabilities, both for human and veterinary medicine. Many countries are dependent on international collaboration, and such veterinary collaborations are underfunded.

The other major lesson is that people rarely act rationally in the face of potential epidemics. The combination of fear, rumors, misinformation and ignorance results in damage that goes far beyond the costs of the disease and its control. Economies are often severely affected, with fear driving a restriction in commerce, tourism and even basic policing.The resultant or exacerbated poverty can result in as much of an insult on health as the infectious disease of concern.

A challenge with the introduction of ASF, or any novel reportable disease, into the US swine herd is that we have a good idea on the behavior of the disease. Frankly, there are many diseases in our pigs that are more difficult to control. ASF moves relatively slowly and can be putatively recognized through its and excellent capabilities to isolate, trace and eradicate the disease. We lack, mostly, the major risk factors of feeding food products and backyard herds. The one concern is our extensive feral pig population, but concerted methods to reduce that exposure are available.

Inasmuch as we understand the behavior of the disease, the behavior of farmers, governments, business and farmers are more difficult to predict. With a loss of 25% of the market (plus any exports in transit being returned), those farmers dependent on public price discovery face the prospect of having no market. The devaluation of inventory and farms will result in decreased ability to finance operations.One or more farms will be affected directly by an ASF infection with rapid depopulation. If more farms are close to the infected farms, they too will be depopulated. However, for some time all farms will be severely affected by the elimination of export markets. Transport, especially between states, will often be stopped. Pigs will back up on the farms, with those that go to slaughter being highly devalued. Money for feed, disease control and other inputs will be hard to secure. Payrolls will not be met and employees will look for more promising jobs in other industries.

Much of our planning has been on disease readiness, and rightly so, as the speed and competence in which the disease is brought under control will determine the speed under which markets will be reacquired. Markets are quick to shut down borders and slow to open them. Most scenarios have regaining of all historic markets measured in years, however.Thus, we not only need disease management but supply management. The economics of pig production are brutal, with oversupply resulting in what can be described as death matches, with the survivors also compromised by the times of low prices and the industry stripped of many of its capabilities.

The industry is now completing many simulations of disease management in the face of the identification of pigs infected by ASF in the US.Depopulation to control disease is readily discussed and modelled to regain markets. Beyond this purpose, depopulation and restriction of production is often ignored, but it may be as important to regain market equilibrium and perhaps even price discovery. For the aggregate industry, there is real benefit to create strategies to combine the benefits of both, actively depopulating all potential contacts, not only through location but also through transportation and management networks.

A term in human health management is the “social determinants of disease”. Of these social determinants, none looms larger than poverty.In the same way, we need to recognize that disease affects economics, but economics also affects disease. Competent and invested care is best delivered on farms that are financially healthy. A rapid restabilization of the industry serves not the owners and employees, but also pigs and the public.

ASF threat: 3 swine vets share insights from the frontline

The rapid spread of African swine fever (ASF) throughout China and other regions of the world has raised concerns the disease will ultimately make its way to the US — a development that could cripple the nation’s pork industry if it doesn’t adequately prepare.

That was the ominous warning of three US swine veterinarians who came together for a roundtable discussion on ASF following their recent trip to China. Among them was Dr. John Deen from the University of Minnesota, coming back from the Leman China conference.

Follow the link to listen to their podcast.

The informative session was organized by the editors of Pig Health Today and sponsored by Zoetis.

Science Page: Illegal importation of meat derived food products through passenger airline carriers and possibility of disease introduction

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week we are sharing an article by the MSHMP team regarding the impact of illegal meat product importation on disease introduction.

Key Points:

  • Commercial airplane passengers bring illegal food imports
  • These illegally imported food products are an overlooked but important disease introduction source
  • The illegal importation by commercial travelers happens more frequently then generally assumed

Illegally imported products are a likely source of disease introduction

The recent African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks in China have created concern in the US swine industry over the possible introduction of the disease into the US, thus making Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) a primary topic of concern. One of the most pressing concerns about FADs in general, and ASF in particular, is what are the likely sources of entry, and how the associated risks can be mitigated. Illegally imported products, carried by commercial air passengers are often overlooked as a minor introduction source. Several studies around the world show that commercial air passengers do represent a likely source of disease introduction. Outbreaks of ASF, Classical Swine Fever (CSF) and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) have been attributed to feeding imported waste meat to domestic pigs (Falk, et al., 2013).

Thousands tons of illegal food products are found at airports

It is difficult to estimate the total amount of illegal food products entering a single country each year. A study conducted in Germany in 2015 at two major airports tracked seizures for three months, including an intensive 10 days of special controls where higher numbers of passenger luggage was searched. Based upon that data they estimated that each year 2,800 tons of illegal food products were brought in via the Frankfurt airport alone. The most commonly imported foods were meat and meat products, including raw, home cooked, preserved, and packaged foods (Beutlich, et al., 2015).

Another study, conducted in Switzerland estimated that the total volume of non-intercepted meat products were 8.6 tons for bush meat, and 1,013 tons for other meat products (Falk, et al., 2013).

Illegal food products contain pathogens; airports are risky ports of entry

A key point to understand the risk of improperly imported foods is knowing how often they contain pathogens and whether these have the capability of remaining infectious. In the German study, out of 474 samples tested, 5% of them contained food borne pathogens (Beutlich, et al., 2015). In a similar study conducted in Spain 67 out of 122 samples tested at an airport contained human noroviruses, and hepatitis E (Rodriguez-Lazaro, et al., 2015).

A modeling study focused on estimating the risk of introduction of ASF and CSF into the US using airport and customs data. The study identified specific airports (i.e.Washington-Dulles, George Bush-Houston, JFK-Queen, Warwick, Sanjuan, West Palm Beach, Charlotte, Ft. Lauderdale, Newark and Cleveland) as ports of entry with the highest risk for both ASF and CSF introduction. This work also identified the months of May through July as the months with the highest risk (Jurado, Paternoster, Martínez-López, Burton, & Mur, 2018).

Only a fraction of illegal imports are intercepted

It is estimated that only between 10-50% of improperly imported products are intercepted at customs (Jurado, Paternoster, Martínez-López, Burton, & Mur, 2018).One study’s sensitivity analysis showed that for both ASF and CSF, the likelihood of detecting illegal products was highly correlated with the final risk of disease introduction.This means that an increase in customs detection of products brought by commercial passengers largely reduces the risk of a CSV or ASF introduction into the US (Jurado, Paternoster, Martínez-López, Burton, & Mur, 2018).

Pork products were seized recently in the USA and Japan

Recently, on October 15th, 2018 a customs and border protection beagle found a whole roasted pig in the luggage of a traveler from Ecuador(Lieu, 2018) at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport. Ecuador as any other South American country is ASF negative, but CSF continues to be present in the country. It is unknown whether the smoked pig has been tested for CSF, but the case is a perfect example of the variety of products that are being transported to the US.

On October 1st, Japanese customs officials confiscated a pork sausage from a Beijing traveler. The sausage tested positive for ASF (Reuters). African Swine Fever has also been found at a South Korean airport in pork products brought in a commercial passenger airline from China (Reuters). All of these examples highlight the reality of the risk illegally imported products carried by commercial travelers play in FAD introduction.

It is important for the swine community to be aware of these risks, to be aware of what food products are being brought to their sites by people, and to push for effective prevention methods. It also highlights the need of the swine community to communicate this risk to the non-swine community to raise awareness and thus contribute to protecting the industry. By using research that helps identify where the highest risks lie spatially and temporally, as well as flights from which countries represent risk, better prevention methods can be developed and implemented.