A contagious swine virus spreading throughout Asia, Africa and Europe will mean a stricter protocol for hogs at the Huntingdon County Fair this summer.
African Swine Fever is a highly contagious virus, currently in sub-Saharan Africa, the European Union and most recently in China, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. It has not yet spread to the United States.
The virus has no cure or vaccine, which means all herds containing the virus are slaughtered to contain it. The disease does not affect humans.
“In China, they have already killed over 200 million pigs,” said Dr. John Brockett from Huntingdon Veterinary Service. “That is more than the United States produces in a year.”
The fever has yet to show up in the United States, but farmers and the government are already taking precautions. Among them are increased inspections at county fairs.
Matt Quigg, swine superintendent for Huntingdon County Fair, explained they are still working with the state veterinary office for specifics, but all hogs will need to be visually inspected for the fever on arrival at the fair.
“We’re still working on the protocol with the state vet’s office,” Quigg said. “(Whether) they’ll be inspected at weigh-in or off the trailer. … It shouldn’t be anything outrageous. (We) are working on information to provide to the exhibitors and parents. We’ll get something out as soon as we can.”
“The reason for (inspection) is because if an individual pig from an individual farm were to be infected and brought to the fair, then we could have a spread within the fair and visitors to the fair and that could spread quickly versus (a sick pig) being isolated around one farm with a handful of pigs,” Brockett said.
Also, in keeping with state requirements, all market hogs will need to be transported directly to a slaughterhouse rather than being taken back to their home farms.
“As per the mandated quarantine order from Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, all animals must go to the slaughter,” Quigg said. He added, “As with any disease that can be spread through pigs or swine, it could run rampant very quickly if not taken care of. That’s why biosecurity at home or at the fair is of the utmost importance.”
One of the difficulties with security around the fever is its symptoms look similar to other diseases, such as erysipelas, a common bacterial infection.
“Signs that we’d be looking for would be a pig with a fever that’s not eating, feeling weak and has a red blotchy rash on its skin,” Brockett said. “Those are things that I can run into already. I treated a pig like that a couple weeks ago with erysipelas.”
However, Brockett said while erysipelas will respond to antibiotics, the African Swine Fever will not and has high rates of mortality.
“That is a problem: how to detect it,” he said. “If I’m seeing a pig with erysipelas or with African Swine Fever, I can’t tell the difference. Or a pig with pneumonia, that is feeling weak and has a fever (or) coughing, you may not be able to tell the difference. … The only way to diagnose is if the pig doesn’t respond and dies, then we’d need to do further testing to confirm whether African Swine Fever is the cause of death.”
Brockett explained inspections at the fair will resolve this problem by ensuring all animals are healthy.
“If every (pig) is healthy coming in, then we’re not going to have to worry about (misidentifying),” he said.
Though the fever has not yet spread to the United States, the contagiousness of the virus makes the spread highly likely.
“The fever is not in the United States yet, but according to experts at Iowa State University and Penn State University, it’s not a matter of if, but when,” Quigg said. “From the conference calls and webinars I’ve read, (the fever) spread through Europe and Asia for over a decade or so. Some areas it actually spread faster, a matter of months. So there’s no scientific way to put a timeline on it of when, but just (plan) what to do to prevent it.”
Brockett said travelers should be very careful about making sure their clothes are cleaned after visiting farms in countries with the fever.
“(People should be) cleaning off their shoes, and not bringing back food products, particularly meat products from other centuries unless they’re sealed and approved for import,” he said.
Quigg said it is still to early to say how the disease might impact pork prices or farmers in the area, but if the disease spreads, it will have an impact.
“It will be nationwide, (and affect) the pork industry as a whole,” he said. “It’s hard to tell at this point how extreme that might be.”
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