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.

Science Page: African Swine Fever transmission and survivability

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.

There is no Science Page this week so we are sharing a favorite from this year, in which Dr. Carles Vilalta created a literature review on ASF virus transmission and survivability.

Keypoints

  • New introductions of ASF to free areas of the disease are usually by uncooked pork fed to pigs.
  • Virus can be inactivated with temperature and low pH.
  • Survivor animals may play a role in the transmission and persistence of the disease.

Further outbreaks of African Swine Fever virus (ASFV) were reported last week in China several miles away from what is thought to be the first outbreak. This geographic dispersal leads us to think about dissemination mechanisms within the country and between countries.

EPIDEMIOLOGY

Infected animals will go through a viremic phase and can shed the virus through nasal secretions, feces and urine. Therefore, the main transmission route is oral-nasal, as pigs can be exposed to ASF positive secretions or tissues (i.e. pork products). Indirect transmission can also occur by exposure to contaminated fomites. This virus can also be transmitted by ticks. This vector-borne route becomes relevant when the wild boar
population is present and moves across regions and countries. The common introduction route into ASF free regions is usually through positive pigs transported into the area, or contaminated pork products that are fed to other pigs. ASFV has also been detected in air samples; however, airborne transmission is considered a secondary route of transmission due to the high virus load needed.

VIRUS SURVIVABILITY

Inactivation and persistence

Although ASFV is highly resistant, the virus can be inactivated at pH < 4 and pH >11. Survivability outside the host is heavily related to temperature. For instance, the infectious half-life in urine and feces can range from 3 to 15 days and 4 to 8 days at 37°C and 4°C, respectively. The virus may persist for several weeks or months in frozen, fresh, or uncooked pork, as well as in salted dried pork products. In contrast, ASFV is inactivated at high temperatures (i.e. 70°C cooked or canned hams) and in cured or processed products such as Spanish cured pork products after day 122–140 of curing. Pigs can become persistently infected and the virus can stay viable in their carcasses for up to six months. Therefore, infected carcasses represent a risk to other pigs. More recently, an investigation simulating a trans-Atlantic shipping of ASFV contaminated feed ingredients from Europe proved that viable virus can be recovered after 30 days.

The role of survivor pigs

ASFV recovered and sub-clinically infected pigs become a source of virus to other pigs. This plays an important role in disease transmission and persistence in endemic areas as well as becoming one of the most important routes of transmission into disease-free zones. In-vivo experiments have revealed an infectious period of moderately virulent virus isolates ranging from 20 to 40 days. In another in-vivo transmission study, pigs that had been exposed to ASFV 90 days prior were commingled with naive pigs and the virus was transmitted to naive pigs.

Serological field studies performed in positive regions of Brazil, the Iberian Peninsula, East Africa, Kenya and Uganda revealed that the there was a very low percentage of seropositive animals one year after the outbreak. It was hypothesized that those few seropositive pigs were still carriers and could have been responsible of some of the newer outbreaks.

CONCLUSION

ASF has a complex epidemiology with different routes of transmission that can involve animals and ticks as direct transmission, and contaminated clothes, tools, and surfaces as indirect transmission. Thus, early detection and intervention of the diseases are key to containing disease spread in absence of an effective vaccine.

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.

What if African Swine Fever came to Minnesota?

The Center for Food Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota released a new video on African Swine Fever and what the consequences would be if it ever came to Minnesota. Dr. Marie Culhane from the University of Minnesota and Dr. Beth Thompson, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health discuss how the state prepared for this eventuality.

Click on the video to listen to their exchange. (14:56 min)

 

Swine Disease Global Surveillance Report: bi-monthly update

The new swine disease global surveillance report was released earlier this week. Coordinated by the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the Swine Health Information Center, the aim of these reports is to have a structure for near real-time identification of hazards. In this report, updates are focusing on African Swine Fever in China and Belgium, Classical Swine Fever in Brazil and Japan, Foot and Mouth Disease in Colombia.

African Swine Fever

CHINA

Since last August, 30 outbreaks of ASF have been reported in China spreading through nine provinces. So far in October, seven outbreaks occurred, five of them in the province of Liaoning in the northeast of the country where the first case was reported two months ago. This peak in the number of outbreaks suggests the situation still remains far from
under control.

BELGIUM

Belgium keeps investigating the presence of the disease in the wild boar population. Fences and gates were built aiming to isolate an area, but so far 84 animals were detected positive since the first detection of the disease in the country, on September 13. There are several theories regarding introduction of the virus in this region in Europe and the role people play in carrying swine by-products or even hunting materials into this region is being discussed and investigated.

Classical Swine Fever

BRAZIL

On October 8, Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture (MAPA) reported an outbreak of CSF in a backyard free-range farm located in the state of Ceará (Forquilha-CE). The outbreak was reported to the veterinary service, where high mortality rates and clinical signs (anorexia, fever, incoordination) were observed in sows and younger pigs. The fatality rate was 97 percent and the remaining animals were euthanized. The farm was then isolated followed by the euthanasia for the animals, sanitary destruction of carcasses, disinfection, a restriction of movements in the region, and an initiation of an investigation in surrounding farms.

JAPAN

One month after the identification of the outbreak of CSF in Japan, investigations were implemented in the region of Gifu Prefecture, along with 25 other Prefectures. Overall, 19 wild boars were found positive (15 percent) for CSF in Gifu, and no positive animals were identified elsewhere. Investigations are ongoing.

Foot and Mouth Disease

Currently, the following countries have reported the presence of FMD in swine: China, Colombia, South Korea, North Korea, and Russia.

COLOMBIA

On October 10, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA, by its Spanish acronym) reported an outbreak of FMD in a swine farm, located in the Departamento de Cesar, north of the country and very close to the Venezuelan border. Ten days prior, another outbreak was identified in cattle, in a city located approximately 500 miles (800km) away, in Departamento de Boyaca. Both regions have vaccination coverage and were recognized as “free with vaccination” on December 2017.

The full report with maps and location of the various outbreaks is available to read here.

 

ASF update: Swine Disease Global Surveillance bi-monthly report

This report was published by the Swine Health Information Center and prepared by the University of Minnesota.

Epidemiological Situation

Belgium

On September 14th, the OIE official report of the 1st ASF case in Belgium was released, confirming our previous report. On Saturday, 15th, the Federal Agriculture minister confirmed three new cases in the same area of the initial report, identified in wild boars found dead in the city of Etalle (Luxembourg province), near the border with France.

On Friday evening, a multisectoral meeting took place in Belgium, where the farming, meat and animal feed sectors asked for priority measures against the spread of African Swine Fever to be in place. In the joint statement coming from that meeting, they draw up five possible critical needs/measures to mitigate the disease spreading: a European plan to define and maintain the affected zone; the creation of a committee dedicated to the export of meat and pork products; a regulated slaughtering and butchering method for pigs in the area which is under tight surveillance; a realistic and feasible plan to reduce the boar population in the country; and finally the creation of a crisis communication committee.

Arrangements are being done to ban the movement, hunting and feeding of wild boars in the region to control the spread of the disease by human interaction. An investigation and monitoring program is being implemented, with the support of European experts.

China

With the reporting of two new outbreaks today (September 14th), unofficially, there have been 21 ASF outbreaks reported in China. The last two reported outbreaks included (a) 16 hogs with sudden death in the Inner Mongolian Province, and (b) a farm in Henan Province, with 148 infected pigs and 43% fatality rate. Officially, however, the OIE WAHIS platform still reports only 19 outbreaks in six provinces (Figures 1 and 2). Although the cause of ASF introduction into China remains unclear, in March, 2018, FAO alerted for the risk of introduction of ASF into the country by illegal introduction of animals or food. There are also concerns that, similarly to what has been reported in Europe, wild boars may play a role in the spread of the disease.

Control Activities

Approximately 40,500 pigs have been culled since the beginning of the epidemic, with mortality rates that varied between 0 and 23.17% (Figure 1). The Chinese government reported checking pigs in thousands of sites, which may have resulted in the increase of the identification of new outbreaks. In an attempt to contain the spread of the disease, all transport of live animals from infected provinces is restricted, feed policy is being adjusted to the current scenario, and the logistics of the industry and the Chinese market are being reviewed. On September 13th, the use of food waste and pig blood as feed for pigs in ASF-infected and neighboring provinces was banned. Also, testing pig feed to ASF will be required, and positive samples will trigger destruction of the whole batch of feed.

Disease Impact

China is considering to import meat from other markets, including the European Union, that in 2017 faced an intense decline in pork exports. US hog market is also currently facing a low price market, however with expansion in number of sows and pork produced. International trade is at risk once ASF is spreading rapidly into consolidated markets like Europe and China, and concerns are growing around the globe.

 

Figure 1: Summary of outbreaks of African Swine Fever in China. Nineteen outbreaks were reported to OIE, in 6 provinces: Lianoning, Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Heilongjiang (Source: OIE – WAHIS).

 

Figure 2: Chinese provinces with reported ASF outbreaks (Lianoning, Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Heilongjiang). The intensity of the green shade depicts the number of culled animals, with the Province of Liaoning (darkest green) showing the highest cull rate.