Living in Iowa, if there is any momentous news about pigs, we know about it. Iowa is the largest producer of pork in the United States and it is an economic importance to our state. In 2012, Iowa had $6.8 billion in sales, which was double that of the next top producing state so you can see how important pigs are to us.
African Swine Fever (ASF) is caused by a virus that is extremely contagious to pigs. It is endemic to numerous countries in Africa. Recently in the news, you may have heard that China is experiencing an outbreak and it is critical that they get this under control because China is huge in the pork-producing industry–holding half of the world’s swine population–and is the number one country for pork production which is also the country’s main source of protein. The worry at this point is the spread to other Asian countries, so health officials have been working hard to connect with the country’s hundreds of thousands of pig farmers, from large-scale operations to small family farms.
Pigs contract ASF through direct contact with infected pigs or by ingestion of waste food containing unprocessed pig meat products. Pigs show signs of depression, loss of appetite, hyperemia of skin, respiratory distress, vomiting, epistaxis, and abortion. Hemorrhage is also a key clinical finding in this disease, typically occurring in lymph nodes, kidneys, and the heart. The mortality rates are close to 100%, which shows how devastating this disease really is. The main threat to our own pig herds here in the U.S. is from infected pork products and waste food. Vigilant surveillance and control help to prevent an ASF epidemic and provide early detection.
Currently, there is no treatment available for ASF and vaccine attempts to this point, have been ineffective. Prevention is key in this disease to keep it from spreading worldwide. As vet students and veterinarians, I believe it is our responsibility to be familiar with international outbreaks so we know how to educate clients and answer public questions appropriately.