African Swine Fever threat to UK

African Swine Fever (ASF) will hit the UK, a chief veterinary officer from Northern Ireland has predicted.

The virus is devastating pig herds in Russia and other parts of the world and according to veterinary advisor to the Association of Meat Inspectors (AMI) Robert Huey, who spoke to delegates at their conference last weekend, we must be ready.

“They had it in Malta and had to kill all of their pigs to get rid of it. It was door to door because people kept pigs in their basements. That’s the sort of thing you have to do to get rid of it,” he said.

Huey said factors such as climate change were having an impact on how viruses spread around the world. He explained that when he was in college, the threat of blue tongue to the UK was thought to be small, yet it came here and such complacency over ASF should be avoided.

According to Huey, ASF was already present in the EU in Sardinian pig herds. “It’s a hard bastard,” he added and described how the virus can survive temperatures of -4oC for six months post-mortem and is able to survive processing too.

He said the virus was not airborne, despite popular belief, but was carried in the blood of pigs and ticks and could be transmitted to UK pigs easily. “It is as simple as someone throwing contaminated pork into an area with non-contaminated pigs.”

However, he said catching the virus early was key and noted that Russia had recently admitted to “losing control of it and it has spread. They are talking about vaccines, despite the fact that there’s no vaccine.”

But, he added UK meat inspectors were at the front of preventing the virus from gripping the UK and questioned whether a change to pig inspection rules would prevent the chances of much-needed early detection.  

In the event of an outbreak, however, Huey said: “A good old fashioned lock-down would do the job because it’s not air born. The whole effort of getting rid of it would be killing pigs quickly.” In this instance, he indicated that pigs may have to be gassed in order to kill them quick enough, which would be better than “trying to get a large number of pigs done on the farm.”

Huey also noted that humans were not at risk from the virus, but warned: “If you don’t get it early, the disease can spread and get into the wildlife and then it’s very difficult to get on top of it.”


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