No one likes to be burned. Unfortunately, the U.S. pork industry was burned not long ago by the introduction of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) and Seneca Valley Virus as diseases we didn’t have in the U.S. and now do, says Andrea Pitkin, DVM, PIC North America’s health assurance veterinarian.
“Our best intervention available against foreign animal disease is prevention,” says Jean Paul Cano, DVM, PIC North America’s Health Director of Americas.
Fighting foreign animal disease isn’t for the faint of heart. On a recent webinar, Pitkin and Cano discussed transmission dynamics of African swine fever (ASF).
“ASF is not present in North America at this time, but if the virus were to enter the U.S. pork industry, it would cause major disruption and tremendous economic losses,” Cano says.
He believes ASF shouldn’t be that hard to control with basic biosecurity and good communication. However, he believes two major obstacles make this disease particularly challenging.
“The resistance of the virus in the environment is a major obstacle,” Cano says. “It can live in the environment, in feed ingredients, and in pork or cured meats for a long time. This increases the time when the population is susceptible to being infected. Also, especially with some of the new strains being reported and the expected explosion of mortality in a short amount of time, the two- to three-week testing period opens the door for transmission in those two weeks where pigs and people can be moving before the disease is under control.”
The front line of ASF transmission
The biggest threat to ASF transmission is people. “Biosecurity is our main tool to prevent this disease,” she adds.
Understanding all aspects of biosecurity on your farm – from protocols in place to proper training of your team – is crucial. Educate everyone who enters your farm on the importance of their role in your biosecurity plan. Pitkin offers four tips to avoid being a transmission vector for ASF.
1. Avoid visiting countries that are ASF-positive. How necessary is it to be in contact with pigs from countries that have ASF? Is it worth this risk to your herd and the U.S. swine industry?
2. If travel to an ASF-positive country is unavoidable, follow mitigation protocol. Take steps to prevent potential contamination when coming back to the U.S. All shoes and clothing that you wear in contact with pigs should be thrown away and left in that country, Pitkin advises. If you do bring back infected clothing, make sure it remains contained until you are able to disinfect the clothing.
3. Don’t bring back pork or pork products from ASF-positive countries. Pitkin says the U.S. is lucky to have a great Beagle Brigade protecting its borders. The pork industry can do its part to help by spreading the word and making sure people know that they should not bring back pork or pork products from ASF-positive countries.
Studies have shown uncooked pork or juices from uncooked pork can transmit the PRRS virus. Many farms have already stopped allowing uncooked pork to enter the farm. ASF takes this one step further with its ability to survive in cured meats for up to 150 days, Pitkin says.
“If we were to have ASF come into the U.S., think about your procedures for allowing pizza, breakfast sausages, even ham from entering your farm as it could become a potential risk,” Pitkin says.
4. Respect downtime. Downtime is the concept that if you have been in a pig population, you should stay away from other pigs for a set amount of time to avoid bringing the virus into another population. Downtime can’t be used in and of itself alone, Pitkin says. For example, if your shoes get contaminated with bodily fluids from a pig, and you live in a cold area and keep those shoes outside, the virus could live on your shoes for an extended period, even up to 5-7 days. It’s important to understand downtime in conjunction with mitigation to help prevent any sort of transmission.
“Don’t play with fire,” Pitkin says. “Realize how imperative it is to understand biosecurity and how you will react if ASF does come to our country. Being caught in a situation we can’t control can be devastating to our swine herd. Biosecurity is our main means to stop the spread of a foreign animal disease.”