I’ve always been interested in epidemics. Growing up, one of my favorite movies was Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman, and my all time favorite book is The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. Now that I am a veterinary student, I have taken more of an interest in communicable diseases that affect species other than humans. Right now African Swine Fever is in the headlines due to an outbreak occurring in China, a location the virus has normally never been found in.
So, what is this illness? African Swine flu is a virus primarily infecting any swine species including domestic pigs and even wild animals like warthogs. Endemic to Africa, the ASF virus is spread from tick vectors to any swine species they encounter. The virus has varying levels of virulence, but some strains report nearly 100% death rates. The virus has spread from Africa to Europe and South America several times over the past few decades, but these events have been relatively rare. Unfortunately, ASF is a very hardy virus, capable of remaining virulent for many months even after being frozen and thawed, so this makes it more difficult to eradicate once it has been introduced to an area.
The first cases of African Swine Fever in China were first noted during early August. Since then, it has spread to 3 more provinces within the country. At this time, it is uncertain how the virus came to China, though the strain is similar to viral strains previously found in Russia and other parts of Europe. If the Chinese government is not able to contain this outbreak of ASF, there could be consequences for both producers and consumers in the country. Pork is the main protein source for many of China’s citizens, and the country has about half of the total swine population in the world. There is also growing concern that the virus could cross borders into other neighboring countries in East Asia, causing further damage and economic hardship.
I will be following this story over the next few weeks and months to see how this emerging infectious disease plays out. If China continues to struggle with the disease, they may have to resort to importing pork from other countries. For more information about African Swine Fever or the emerging outbreak please see here & here.