African Swine Fever: Growing Concern Across Europe

Concern is rising in Europe over the continuing increase in the number of cases of African swine fever (ASF) that are being reported in the north-eastern EU states.
calendar icon 21 November 2014
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More wild boar cases and backyard farms have reported disease in Latvia, while in Lithuania there are further cases along the border with Belarus and Latvia.

In Poland, the disease seems to be restricted to the border region with Belarus and, in a new development, Estonia has reported ASF in two wild boar, 25km apart, for the first time in a region already under restriction due to the high risk of outbreaks from proximity to cases in Latvia.

Ukraine has reported a new case in a wild boar on the Russian border, while the Russian Federation continues to report cases and outbreaks.

Figures produced by the Russian Veterinary authority Rosselkhoznador show that Lithuania reported a total of 10 cases with six in pigs and four in wild boar by the middle of September.

Poland had 17 cases, with two in pigs and 15 in wild boar. Latvia had the most serious outbreaks reporting 94 cases with 31 in pigs and 63 in wild boar and Estonia has reported three cases in pigs, although further reports to the European Commission indicate that there has been a further case in Estonia.

In Poland, the measures to control and avert the spread of African swine fever have included talking samples from nearly 40,000 pigs and wild board over the last three years. This year alone, the Polish authorities have been surveying samples form more than 2,000 wild boar that were shot and more than 200 that were found dead.

This October, veterinary authorities came together in Lithuania to discuss the best methods of hunting and controlling the wild boar population.

The concern is that the incidents of African swine fever in the four main regions have occurred close to the border with Belarus.

The lack of controls and shooting of wild boar has caused consternation in the Russian veterinary authorities who see the action taken by the European Commission and the countries in the EU affected by the disease as hopelessly inadequate.

Rosselkhoznador said: “The pattern of the spread of the disease indicates extreme inefficiency and failure undertaken by the European Commission anti-epizootic measures.

“At the same time, Estonia, like Poland, renounced mass shooting wild boar as the main vectors of the disease.

“There has also been very dangerous and uncontrolled and unrestricted movement of pork products from the territory of the countries affected by the disease.

“African swine fever is an extremely dangerous transboundary disease that is extremely difficult to control, especially in the wild.

“Realising the seriousness of the situation, the European Commission has warned repeatedly Rosselhoznadzor of the growing threat and the risk of a rapid spread of the disease in wildlife.

“Unfortunately, the actual omission of pan-European veterinary structures has led to the fact that African swine fever is spreading rapidly in the European Union, covering new territories and countries.”

From a European point of view, genetic sequencing of the viruses from Lithuania and Poland has been carried out and has shown the isolates belong to genotype II and with 100 per cent sequence identity to genetic marker regions from viruses isolated in the Caucasus and eastern Europe outbreaks since 2007.

The European Commission said that the analysis is not yet fine enough to allow a more focussed study of the origin of disease incursions, but initial studies suggest more recent cases in Belarus and Ukraine in 2013 are closely related.

Recently, the Community Veterinary Emergency Teams returned from Latvia and Lithuania, where they were looking into the controls and incursions of disease.

The teams made two observations that a lack of biosecurity in the backyard sector remains a problem and that it is possible the wild boar cases in Latvia in particular may signal a more widespread, endemic problem.

The Commission said that detecting clinically sick wild boar is difficult and relies on finding dead animals.

This becomes more problematic in areas with difficult terrain – much of the land cover in this wide region is densely wooded with few major roads or towns – or where there is poor awareness of biosecurity or the requirement to report suspect cases of disease.

The decomposed state of some of the wild boar carcases that have tested positive in Latvia and Lithuania also suggests the disease may have been present in certain areas for some time.

The Commission said that targeting fallen wild boar for passive surveillance is the most suitable approach for early warning of the disease spreading into areas with shared borders with infected countries but persuading hunters or backyard farmers to report fallen stock will require affected Member States to consider the best approach to communicating with the different sectors.

As the winter approaches and temperature drops it may become more difficult not only to find the wild boar, but also to clean and disinfect vehicles, footwear and equipment, so awareness and reporting disease promptly are paramount.

Concern remains high that the disease could spread across the main pig-producing areas of west and north Poland, or north-west Europe including Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and northern France.

In Russia there were by mid-October, 17 active outbreaks of the disease that were being followed by Rosselkhoznador, with five of these among domestic pig units and 12 in wild boar.

Over the year to date there have been 66 outbreaks reported to the veterinary authority with 30 of them among pigs and 36 among wild boar.

Since the outbreak began in Russia in 2007, there have been a total of 704 incidents with 360 seen among pigs and 314 among wild boar and 32 contaminated objects also found.

As the incidents grow in both Russia and in the Baltic countries of the EU bordering Russia, the ban imposed on imports of pig meat products from the EU to Russia continues.

There continues to be an impasse between Russia and the European Commission, with the EU wanting just the zones infected by the disease blocked from exporting product, while Russia is insisting on tighter controls banning products from the infected countries completely.

While the ban on pig meat products from the EU remains, Russia is starting to source pig meat from other countries including China. South America, in particular Brazil and Chile also remain strong contenders for a share of the Russian market.

Further Reading

Find out more information on African swine fever by clicking here.

November 2014

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