MS Risk Blog

Major outbreaks of African swine fever detected in Latvia and Lithuania

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African swine fever (ASF) is highly contagious and deadly disease that affects both domestic pigs and wild boars and is arguably the most dangerous and emerging swine disease worldwide. It is transferred via direct contact or with excretions from infected animals, or through ticks. The ASF virus is endemic to infected wild animals in Africa, mainly in many countries located south of the Sahara, but there have also repeatedly been outbreaks in southern Europe. The pathogen has been spreading north-westwards since 2007 from Georgia through Armenia.

On 2 August 2018 ASF was detected  on a farm in the western Latvian district of Saldus. The company which owns the farm reported that there was  15,570 pigs on the farm, all of which will be culled.  A quarantine zone has been designated 10 km around the affected farm and biosafety requirements and inspections have been implemented on surrounding farms within zone.  This is the eighth outbreak of African swine fever in domestic pigs in Latvia this year. In all the previous cases the disease had affected small farmsteads. However, it  has been reported in the media that the 2 August outbreak of the disease is the biggest Latvia has seen since 2014, when it for the first time hit Latvia. A pan European ASF outbreak could have severe socio-economic impact: both, in areas where it is newly introduced and where it is already endemic.  ASF also threatens food security and limits pig production in affected countries

On 13 July 2018 the Lithuanian State Food and Veterinary Service (VMVT) confirmed that an ASF outbreak had been detected at a pig farm in central Lithuania containing 23,464 pigs. All the animals were culled and a quarantine zone was established. Vidmantas Paulauskas, the deputy head of VMVT, told Lithuanian national radio LRT that he suspected had a “human error” was behind the ASF case at the farm. The financial damage to the farm is estimated to be around four to five million euros (4.55 to 5.69 million U.S. dollars). Seven out of 60 Lithuanian municipalities have been in a state of emergency over the disease for more than two years. At the end of last year, the Lithuanian government revoked the state of emergency, claiming the virus has been tackled.

On 6 May 2018 Belarus has been accused of hiding cases of African swine fever (ASF) after products containing the virus genome were discovered in Russia. Strict sanctions were immediately imposed on Belarus pig farmers; as Russian veterinary watchdog Rosselhoznadzor banned the import of pork and live pigs, by-products, sausages, semi-finished products and even cans with the content of pig-derived products. Rosselhoznadzor blamed Belarus for hiding ASF outbreaks, although the Belarus Government denied the claims, issuing a statement saying: “The situation in regard to the animal diseases, including ASF, is sustainable with no registered outbreaks”. However, there have been a number of reports of pig mortality and subsequent culls on farms in Belarus, with no official explanation.

Denmark has decided to build barriers along the border of the country in order to prevent the spread of ASF into Denmark. On 5 June 2018 the Danish Parliament approved a 70 kilometre long and 1.5-metre high fence across to be built on the Danish-German border.

An ASF outbreak can kill a high number of animals in a matter of days.  Currently the infection does not affect humans. Although a person can become a mechanical vector of the virus. Also domestic and wild animals, skin parasites, rodents can become carriers. Latvian virologist Vaira Irisa Kalnina, has warned that ASF could mutate and become dangerous to humans if the spread of the virus is not controlled. Kalnina explained that the wider the spread and the longer it remains among animals, the bigger the possibility that the virus could mutate and become dangerous to other animals. Climatic changes, including the recent anomalous summer heat experienced throughout Europe, and the growing inflow of tourists are some of the main factors why Europe is experiencing sudden outbreaks of exotic viruses not typically seen in the region. The pathogen is very stable and can remain infectious in food over several months. If unheated food or food scraps from infected animals are fed to non-infected animals, the virus can therefore spread to previously ASF-free regions, thus infecting domestic pig herds too. Presently, there is no vaccine, or cure, for ASF virus.