African Swine Fever Milestone

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It has been over one year since African Swine Fever has been confirmed in China. Dr. Paul Sundberg of the Swine Health Information Center outlines what has been learned over the past year and what the U.S. swine industry continues to work on to keep ASF out of the country.


Don Wick


Dr. Paul Sundberg, Executive Director, Swine Health Information Center




Don Wick: 00:00 From the Pork Checkoff in Des Moines, Iowa, it’s Pork Pod! Pork Pod, a look at the hot topics in today’s pork industry. The Pork Checkoff is working for you through various forms of research, promotion, and consumer information projects. I’m Don Wick speaking on behalf of the Pork Checkoff and today our guest is Dr. Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center. It has now been more than one year since African swine fever has been confirmed in China. Bring us up to speed. What have we seen in this past year? Tell us about this milestone?

Paul Sundberg: 00:31 Yeah, we’ve really focused with USDA and the state animal health officials on a couple of things. On prevention. We want to keep it out of the country at all costs. But also we’ve all also done a lot of work on preparedness, because if we can’t be successful in keeping it out of the country, we’ve got to be as best prepared as we can for it when we get it here. One of the things that we’ve worked on as far as prevention goes is working with the Customs and Border Protection, on the beagle patrols and the inspections of incoming travelers because we think that that’s probably one of our biggest risks is people bringing illegal products into the country. Certainly that’s the way that the virus has moved around in different countries. I buy sandwiches, and in contaminated sandwiches is contaminated meat, that type of thing. Even though it isn’t a food safety issue, we want to make sure that we catch every one of those things that we can in Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, have been very helpful and key in helping to strengthen the inspections and that border security.

Don Wick: 01:50 Do you have a good handle on, on what kind of numbers we’ve seen in China? Obviously they’re not sharing a lot of that information.

Paul Sundberg: 02:00 Yeah. You know, that’s part of the thing that we try and do, the Swine Health Information Center tries to do with monitoring of international diseases. We use what we term hard sources. And those are the official sources, the official communications that come from the governments. Either it’s from the government itself or from OIE, the International Organization for Animal Health. And then we also have soft sources. And those soft sources are those that we get information from, people that are on the ground, and while not necessarily official, it helps us put perspective into those hard source numbers. The Chinese government has told us that things are under control and that they are releasing quarantines, releasing areas because they’ve got ASF under control and that’s one of those hard official sources. The soft sources says that’s not really the case. That the virus keeps circulating around the country. There’s continued losses. In some provinces we’ve heard that there have been up to 70% losses. So we don’t have a real good number as far as the whole country goes. But when you add it all up, somewhere between a quarter to a half of the pigs that are in China, maybe they’d be affected, maybe gone from this disease. That’s soft source, but we’re learning that that virus is continuing to move around the country and still giving everybody a lot of problems.

Don Wick: 03:36 And it’s not just China. We’re seeing other areas in southeast Asia and Europe, as well.

Paul Sundberg: 03:42 Yeah. It’s moving into other countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. And we expect that that’s going to continue. And we’ve even had a report out of North Korea that it was identified there. So that’s going to continue to move the way that they move pigs, the way they move pork, the way they move people around those countries. We expect that that will continue to go on. One of the concerning things is that in eastern Europe, we’re hearing reports of the virus entering into rather high bio security facilities, into regular production facilities, not just the feral pig infections and not just the backyard production, but in the production facilities. And that’s really a concern because those are the spots where we need to understand better about the entry pathways that this virus can get through. One, in order to prevent them. But two, in order to be able to respond efficiently and effectively should we get it here.

Don Wick: 04:46 You talked about the need to protect our borders and increased inspections, those kinds of things. Are there other things that we need to be doing at this point to deal with this concern of African swine fever?

Paul Sundberg: 04:59 Yeah, we’re doing a lot of work on the response. One of the things that we talked about with USDA a year ago was that we don’t have an official surveillance program for African swine fever in the US and the only official tissue, if you can call it a tissue, that can be used in a diagnostic labs to do ASF test at that time was whole blood. And so we asked them about that. Knowing that if we get African swine fever in the US, it’s likely, if it enters onto a farm, that there will be submissions into the veterinary diagnostic lab because this disease can look like other things. It can look like salmonellosis, it can look like PRRS. So it’s likely that other things we’ll be sending into a diagnostic lab asking for a diagnosis and then investigation into those. So USDA did step up and has done a good job in amending those tissues that can be submitted and used as ASF testing. Now they include lymph nodes. Now it includes spleen, and it includes tonsils. So at least the spleen and the lymph nodes are likely to be submitted as routine submissions. And that leads into the formation of an official ASF surveillance program. So right now we have in the US, starting June 1, an official USDA surveillance program that will test case compatible submissions in veterinarian diagnostic labs for ASF if something comes in. There’s also other things that they’ll be looking at and testing in other areas. But we think that’s a real important thing as far as response goes and getting ready so we can detect this virus if it comes in, just as quickly as possible.

Don Wick: 06:52 Anything we need to be focused on moving forward as we look into the year ahead and even five years down the road, those kinds of things?

Paul Sundberg: 07:02 Yeah. You know, this isn’t a short term deal. This is a long term siege and there’s no real end. You don’t really see the end of this tunnel that we’re in. ASF is going to continue to circulate. ASF is going to continue to put pressure on the US and other negative countries. It’s kind of a different deal than Classical Swine Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease, which have been around for an awfully long time. Because they’ve been around and they continue to spread, but not with the veracity and the fire that ASF is spreading. So I think that really adds to the pressure of that virus getting into the US. And one of the biggest things that producers can do is to help the {inaudible} biosecurity on their farms. Look at all of the different opportunities for different international inputs into their farms, into their operations. It’s not just if a foreign visitor is going to come onto your farm, it’s if any of your workers have any contact with people from other countries that may be bringing unknowingly illegal meat into the country that could be infected.

Paul Sundberg: 08:19 Those kinds of things. Look at the biosecurity that’s on the farm and think of it from the lens of what are the international contacts that are even possible. Because if ASF, Classical Swine Fever or Foot and Mouth Disease get into the country, get through the airport or get through a port of entry and actually get into the country, it won’t affect our pigs unless it gets to the pigs. So that on-farm biosecurity is the last bastion of resistance to the national biosecurity that we need have and it’s the responsibility of pork producers and their veterinarians to do everything they could do to maintain that biosecurity and keep any of these viruses, as well as production diseases, away from their pigs. That’s really a critical thing for the next year, for the next five years, for as long as it takes.

Don Wick: 09:15 You mentioned the situation in eastern Europe where it sounds like it got into some hog confinement units, those kind of things. How big a concern is that, particularly as you look at the US industry?

Paul Sundberg: 09:30 Yeah. Well, we need to do is we need to look at that and learn the lessons because like I said, the pathways of entry, the ability to manage an infection once it gets in, cleaning and disinfecting and repopulating. All of those different kinds of things. Looking at the risk factors which might include feed components and all of the different pathways of entry. We need to learn those lessons and that’s something that we’re going to be working on within the next few months, to help learn the lessons so we can, again, help bolster our prevention if that’s what if we can do that. But especially to help bolster our response, if that is what it takes.

Don Wick: 10:10 Our guest. Dr. Paul Sundberg. Thank you for listening to this edition of Pork Pod. For more information on this topic or the Pork Checkoff itself. visit