The deadly African virus that kills Chinese pigs

A lethal swine disease spreads across northeastern China, infects hundreds of animals and threatens the world's largest pig industry. African swine fever killed 340 pigs in the city of Leqing in Zhejiang, said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Thursday, marking the fourth Chinese province to confirm cases of the incurable disease in August. Outbreaks have been reported up to 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) apart.

1. What is African swine fever?

A highly contagious viral disease that, in its most virulent form, can be 100 percent fatal for domestic pigs and wild boar. There is no vaccine. It is characterized by high fever, loss of appetite, bleeding in the skin and internal organs, with death averaging within 2-10 days. Diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and breathing difficulties are other symptoms.

2. Does it threaten the health of man?

No. The virus infects pigs, warthogs, European wild boar, American wild boar, forest pigs, giant wild boars and peccaries. Nevertheless, the disease can have a significant impact on food security due to reduced and lost production, as well as food safety due to the movement of disease-infected carcasses that may not be sufficiently chilled or frozen, leading to bacterial contamination. The clearing of contaminated animals and the imposition of strict containment measures are the only tools available to limit further spread.

3. What is the care?

China has more than 400 million pigs, more than half of the pigs in the world. Pork is the main source of nutritional proteins in the country. Further dissemination can lead to substantial animal clearance, which will allow pig farmers to earn their livelihoods, reduce pork production, increase prices and direct consumers to other sources of protein. There may also be major repercussions on international trade as a result of import bans. In the European Union, where African swine fever came in 2014, outbreaks spread across the region at a rate of about 200 kilometers per year, resulting in an estimated billions of euros in annual losses.

4. Where else has the disease appeared?

It is endemic, or generally present, in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past decades, the disease has surfaced and then eliminated in parts of Europe, the Caribbean and Brazil. More recently, it has been detected in at least seven EU countries and this year caused outbreaks in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. In May, West Africa reported an outbreak in five districts in central Ghana. In China, the Veterinary Office reported infections in Zhengzhou, Henan; Lianyungang, Jiangsu; Shenyang, Liaoning as well as Leqing city. Chinese scientists who study the genetic evolution of the virus have said that it is very similar to a pan-Russian species.

5. How has China dealt with disease outbreaks in the past?

When the rotting carcasses of more than 16,000 pigs – some of which were reported to be ill – were found in the tributaries of the main river that flowed through Shanghai in early 2013, threatening the water supply in the region, millions of small pigsties were closed in a national program focused on moving the pig production to larger, more efficient farms. It resulted in one of the largest clearings in history – a reduction in the number of pigs that corresponds to the disappearance of the entire American, Canadian and Mexican pork industry in less than two years.

6. How does the virus spread?

It is found in all body fluids and tissues of infected pigs and spreads through direct contact with infected animals or through the ingestion of waste containing unprocessed pork or pork products. It can survive several days in the stool and possibly longer in the urine. Animals that recover from the disease can carry the virus for several months. Unprocessed meat must be heated to at least 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes to inactivate the virus. Blood-sucking flies, ticks and other insects may spread the virus between pigs, as well as contaminated buildings, vehicles, equipment or clothing. Brazilian researchers blamed the outbreak there on trade and tourism.

To contact the reporters about this story: Jason Gale in Sydney on [email protected]; Niu Shuping in Beijing on [email protected]

Contact the editors responsible for this story: Brian Bremner at [email protected], Grant Clark

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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