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.

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.