Australia on Alert as ASF Spreads Through Neighboring Country

( Wikipedia )

The small Pacific nation of East Timor is restricting the movement of pigs in an effort to contain African swine fever (ASF), the East Timor agricultural ministry said on Monday after reporting multiple outbreaks of the deadly virus.

Since early September, the country has reported more than 100 outbreaks, killing a total of 405 backyard pigs from smallholders’ farms in the Dili region, Reuters reports.

Pig movement is being banned from Dili to other municipalities, the ministry said. The country has 400,000 pigs that impact the livelihood of 70% of the small country’s families who depend on raising pigs for income, Reuters said.

East Timor shares an island with Indonesia’s province of East Nusa Tenggara and is located north of Australia. Australian officials are working with East Timor to investigate the source of the outbreak.

Although ASF is not harmful to humans and poses no food safety risk, it is deadly to pigs and has caused global disruption of the pork market.

Australia Determined to Keep ASF Out
In an ABC News article, meat and livestock analyst Simon Quilty said ASF is now about 400 miles from Australia.

“The presence of African swine fever in Timor is alarming to say the least, having jumped 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers (from the Philippines and Vietnam) and puts the disease on Australia’s doorstep,” he said.

The Northern Territory (NT) has been identified as a “hotspot” because of the large number of backyard pigs and the territory’s close association with southeast Asia.

The large feral pig population across northern Australia is a concern as the uncontrolled animals could spread it across the entire continent.

An “emergency roundtable of experts” gathered earlier in September to discuss how to stop ASF from entering the country. Australian airports were identified as a likely path for the disease to enter. Although the country has increased the number of detector dogs to protect its borders, they still need more. For example, the international airport at Darwin, which has nine inbound flights from Dili a week, has no detector dogs, ABC News reports.

Each year, about 20 million travelers pass through Australia’s international airports, Quilty said. About 6.3 million of those travelers are screened, of which about 4% are deemed a high biosecurity risk, he said. 

“Now that’s a lot of people, that’s 250,000 people going through our airports every year that are deemed as high risk,” Quilty said.

Travelers are urged to be aware and not bring any meat product into the country. If travelers are not diverted for secondary screening after declaring they have been on a farm or in contact with animals in an ASF or other foreign animal disease positive nations, contact to assist with these efforts. 

Traveling abroad? Read this first.

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