Is African swine fever contagious? What you need to know about the disease sweeping across Asia

Is African swine fever contagious? What you need to know about the disease sweeping across Asia

File photo hog pig
File photo of a hog. (Photo: AFP/Damien Meyer)  

SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (Jun 25), the Singapore Food Agency put up a post on social media to raise awareness about African swine fever (ASF), a deadly disease sweeping across Asia, affecting hundreds of farms and leading to the death of millions of pigs. 

Here are four things to know about the hog killer. 

WHAT IS AFRICAN SWINE FEVER?

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious virus that can be fatal for pigs, but so far cannot be transmitted to humans. With no antidote or vaccine, the only way to contain the spread is to cull the animals. 

COUNTRIES AFFECTED

Historically, ASF outbreaks have been reported in Africa and parts of Europe, South America and the Caribbean.

The virus has, however, now spread to Asia, with China reporting its first cases last August. In 2019, ASF was also detected in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Laos, Mongolia, North Korea and Vietnam. 

READ: Despite culls, import bans, swine fever to hit pork market for years

Vietnam has been one of the hardest hit by the disease, with about 10 per cent of its pig herd culled as of June this year. ASF was first detected in the Southeast Asian country in February, appearing mostly at small household farms. The virus has since started hitting large-scale industrial farms - a "worrying sign", according to the government - and to date, 2.8 million hogs have been culled. 

african swine fever - key facts

CURBING ITS SPREAD

Since the outbreaks in Asia first began, countries have moved to mobilise resources to help combat further spread. 

Vietnam has deployed its soldiers and police to "make sure infected pigs are culled in a timely manner", Vietnam's deputy agriculture minister Phung Duc Tien was cited as saying. 

Countries such as China, Malaysia and Thailand have announced bans on pig imports from affected countries in recent weeks. 

African swine fever Vietnam culling
This photograph taken on May 27, 2019 shows health officials spraying disinfectant on a dead pig at a farm in Hanoi before burying it in an isolated quarantined pit to stop the spread of African swine fever.  (Photo: AFP/Manan Vatsyayana)  

Malaysia, which remains free from the disease, said on Monday that its government is on the alert and taking precautionary measures, including banning the import of pigs and pork products from China, Poland and Belgium, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Th Malaysian government also advised pig farmers to enhance the bio security of their farms by ensuring perimeter fences are in good condition and that farm hands are provided with clean, disinfected clothes and boots.   

It also warned farmers not to cover up ASF cases. "Failure to report could result in a fine of not more than RM25,000," said the Malaysian agriculture minister. 

In Singapore, said SFA, the authorities require "sources exporting raw pork to Singapore to be free from ASF". SFA has also suspended pork and pork product imports from affected sources, it said in its Facebook post.

"ASF can be inactivated with sufficient heat treatment, so sufficiently heat-treated processed pork from approved establishments is allowed for import into Singapore," it added. 

IMPACT ON PORK PRICES

Pig trotters market Hong Kong
Pig trotters hang inside a meat stall after pork meat sold out in the Mong Kok district in Hong Kong on June 1, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)  

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization recently said that pork prices "have begun to soar", rising by up to 50 per cent both in China and on the Chicago futures exchange. 

In Europe, pork prices have risen 18 per cent since the beginning of March as Japan and South Korea, two major importing nations, have started to build up reserves in cases of disruptions to supplies, according to commodities markets research firm Cyclope. 

READ: Commentary - While the swine flu pounds China's pork industry, meat eaters must stay calm

In France and Germany, prices have "risen by 30 per cent since the start of year due to China", said Jean-Paul Simier, an agricultural market analyst.

The widespread culling of hogs in Asia means China must now begin importing pork massively to compensate for lost production, said Simier. 

"China is the decisive market for pork, you need to understand that 700 million pigs live in China, compared to 20 million in France for example," he said.

"The outbreak of African swine fever in East Asia is likely to have a noticeable impact on meat and feed markets worldwide," said the FAO in its latest semi-annual report on food markets that came out earlier this month.

It also warned of "challenges to maintaining adequate meat supplies in affected countries".

Simier gave a forecast of a 10 per cent drop in Chinese pork production this year or nearly 6 million tonnes. 

"That is already enormous, because the international meat trade is only some 10 million tonnes per year," he said.

"If the disease situation gets out of control, pork could hit prices never seen before," he added.

Source: CNA/hs(aj)

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