African Swine Fever: Getting Closer
Denmark has recently completed a 43 mile-long fence in hopes to block the spread of African Swine Fever by wild boar traveling from Germany into Denmark. Though not reportedly in Germany, the disease (commonly known as ASF) is present in neighboring Poland and that is reason enough for Denmark to protect its lucrative pork exports by building a five-foot-high fence to keep feral pigs at bay.
ASF is a contagious and deadly virus affecting domestic & feral pigs. This is primarily for farmers to worry about, not the general human population. This is a virus that is a threat to pigs only, and comes with wide-ranging concerns, however:
- It is not considered a public health threat.
- It is not able to be passed from a pig or from pork products to a human--only hog to hog.
- It is not a food safety concern.
- It is not a concern to livestock or other non-swine pets.
A Spotty Presence
America and Canada can breathe a sigh for now. It is not found in these two countries--yet. Countries where it is found: Sub-Saharan Africa, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, and some countries in Europe including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. The Czech Republic is free of the virus; however, it is found in nearby Slovakia. Other countries, such as Spain and France have had it in the past but have currently eradicated it. However, it has recently been detected in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, so it is gaining ground and coming ever closer.
How much of a threat?
Among pigs, deadly. In virulent strains, pigs may get a high fever, then suffer appetite loss and appear lethargic. They may huddle together, shiver, cough, breathing abnormally. They can appear unsteady on their legs and after a few days fall into a coma and die. Scientists have predicted that it may affect a quarter of the world's population of pigs.
Presently, there is no vaccine available to combat the virus. There has been a concerted effort to fight the spread in a multi-tiered effort among veterinarians, researchers, university agricultural programs as well as from very motivated pork producers. A vaccine is actively being tested and though the disease is not present in the U.S., ASF is so virulent that a plan of defense is imperative.
Containing the Virus
In the U.S., the pork industry provides over 500,000 jobs and represents a 20 billion-dollar-a-year industry. For Canada, the pork industry sustains 100,000 jobs and a 4 billion dollar industry. There are stringent agreements with the U.S. and Canada to relay information, to zone and contain an outbreak should it occur. Restraining this virus is a priority; presently, feral hogs number 6.5 million across the U.S. and are also found in four Canadian provinces.
Denmark's fence has come under criticism by some skeptics of its effectiveness and some are worried about blocking migratory routes of animals and birds, such as golden jackals, cranes, deer, foxes, otters, and wolves. Roads and railroad crossings have been left open offering a means by which the boars can pass.