I saw a lot of Warthogs (Phacocoerus africanus) when I was in Botswana back in 2013. They were a very common visitor to our campsite, and their boldness only increased in the more populated areas of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, especially as we got close to Kasane and Victoria Falls. They were like squirrels; following us around as we ate, raiding our food stashes for anything that could get their mouths on, and living right in the midst of human activity. Most of them were very pleasant creatures, making us feel like they were bordering on being unintentionally domesticated in certain places we traveled. Little did I know at the time, but the warthog is one of the species that is a natural reservoir for African Swine Fever virus (ASFV), an emerging virus that can have a very high mortality rate in domestic pigs (Sus domesticus).
There is currently an outbreak of ASFV in 4 provinces in China, as well as documented cases in Belgium. China has a very large domestic population and pork is the country’s #1 source of protein. Not only is this a huge problem for the pigs themselves, but it also an important food security problem and a problem for those that depend on pigs for their livelihood. One of the hardest parts about treating this virus is that there is no treatment or vaccine for it. This makes outbreaks difficult to control and impossible to treat once they occur. The only solution to truly eradicate this virus from a population of pigs is to either prevent it or cull the pigs. To complicate the situation, many farmers in Asia are not very familiar with identifying the signs that indicate their herd may be infected with the virus. This results in the potential for the virus to be in the herd for days without proper action occurring or authorities being notified of its presence.
The virus can be extremely pathogenic or very mild in its effects on pigs, depending on the virus isolate that is present. This makes it a difficult disease to detect and therefore an especially difficult disease to treat and prevent. It is spread by contact with an infected pig, or by a soft tick vector (Ornithodoros). Unlike Avian Influenza (AI), ASFV is luckily not a human health risk. That being said, the spread of this virus could become a problem for humans by greatly impacting food supply. This viruses activity is a perfect example of how the intersection between human, animal, and environmental health is so important and can have so many impacts on our world. The veterinary One Health initiative focuses on disease such as this, and this outbreak of ASFV shows why this work is vital to the health of our world.