Answers to Your Top 4 African Swine Fever Questions

( Jennifer Shike, Farm Journal's PORK )

When it comes to African swine fever (ASF), National Pork Board chief veterinarian Dave Pyburn says there are four big questions producers ask him about this deadly virus in pigs that has exploded in parts of Asia and Europe. 

“We're all about prevention right now – both national biosecurity and farm biosecurity – because we absolutely do not want to see this virus get here to the United States,” Pyburn says. 

1.    How can we improve national biosecurity? 
The number one risk for bringing the ASF virus into the U.S. is by travelers either carrying meat products of pigs that were exposed to ASF or carrying the virus on their clothing or shoes as they come into this country, Pyburn says. 

“We're working with Customs and Border Protection to make sure that we are doing the best we can at national biosecurity at our ports and our airports,” he says.

2.    How are we improving diagnostics and surveillance for ASF? 
Pyburn says the U.S. has very effective diagnostic tests and are working on validating easier ways to collect samples on the farm. The ASF surveillance program that USDA put into place about a year ago will undergo a review soon. He says industry leaders will be sitting down with USDA to revise and improve the program.

3.    How will the U.S. handle depopulation and disposal?
The ASF exercise last fall showed the pork industry just how difficult depopulation and disposal will be if an outbreak occurs in the U.S. There were concerns – valid concerns – that came out of this exercise about how the industry will respond. 

“Nobody's going to answer this question for us. We've got to figure out the best ways and I express “ways” that we have for depopulation efforts on the farm, and then safe disposal that doesn't spread the disease further in the process,” Pyburn says.

4.    When are we going to have a vaccine? 
Of course, the biggest questions remain. When will we have a vaccine? What are the best candidates so far? Pyburn believes we are still multiple years away from having a commercial vaccine available in the United States. 

“We hear of many vaccines that are already in use in China,” he says. “In discussions that I've had with veterinarians in China, there's some very definite issues with both efficacy and safety of those vaccines. They're not ones that we would likely use. Probably the one that I have the most enthusiasm about is the recent vaccine done at Plum Island by Gladue and Borca.”

This gene-deleted vaccine is the one of the best candidates at this point in time, Pyburn believes. Now, it’s important to find a commercial partner so further efficacy and safety studies can be done to move this vaccine along in the pipeline towards licensing. 

“We want to plant that tree now, and in two to three years, hopefully have a vaccine in hand,” Pyburn says. 

Read more on ASF by Farm Journal's PORK:

ASF Continues to Explode in the Eastern Hemisphere, Pyburn Says

5 Ways to Hold Your Ground Against African Swine Fever

Here's What Makes Coronavirus and African Swine Fever Different