African Swine Fever risk shows ‘no signs of decreasing’

The risk of a highly infectious viral pig disease to UK herds shows “no signs of decreasing” according to the latest Government bulletin.

Risk level of African Swine Fever was raised to “low” in the UK in August 2017 after the disease began to track across the European continent.

Several cases have been confirmed in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary so far this year.

The current risk of African Swine Fever introduction to the UK is still considered to be “low”, although the situation is being kept under review.

An African Swine Fever outbreak in China earlier this month is unlikely to have any direct effect on the UK’s pig industry; however, the development signals a new geographical area affected by the disease.

The news is a big development internationally as China is home to around half of the global pig population.

Despite the relatively low level of legal trade in live pigs or pig products from affected countries into the UK, Government officials warn there could be a risk from the movement of people and vehicles from affected eastern European countries.

The report also highlighted evidence of findings of contaminated non-EU origin pig products detected in the EU.

“This risk is showing no sign of decreasing, and it is vital that visitors to the EU member states understand the impact of bringing personal food items which are discarded for wildlife to pick up,” it said.

“Similarly, visitors to affected areas that have any contact with the environment around wild boar cases should clean and disinfect any items which may be contaminated.”

The report also highlighted the importance that pig keepers and the public ensure pigs are not fed catering waste, kitchen scraps or pork products, in accordance with the swill feeding ban.

Killed every pig in Malta

The disease has such devastating effects that an outbreak in the late 1970s saw every pig in Malta killed.
In March 1978, an outbreak of African Swine Fever occurred in Malta. The disease spread rapidly and by April 13, had been found on 304 premises involving 25,100 pigs.

A census carried out just a couple of days later, on April 15-16, showed that there were at least 1,440 premises containing 70,700 pigs on the island and a slaughter policy was introduced.

By August, the original pig population had been reduced to one-third and a second census taken on August 15-16 showed that a total of 501 owners and 13,975 pigs remained.

The decision was taken to slaughter all the remaining pigs and by the end of January 1979, there were no pigs in Malta.

The outbreak cost an estimated £5 million and became the first occasion when any country had slaughtered an entire species of domestic animal to eliminate a disease.