Biosecurity only defence against African swine fever

As the rest of South Africa fights the disastrous Coronavirus, in the Eastern Cape, farmers and government officials are also currently battling with the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak, which if left uncontrolled can spread throughout the rest of the country laying waste to hundreds of thousands of pigs, says Elizna Erasmus, Ruminant and Biosecurity Specialist at Bupo Animal Health.

“Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or treatment for the African swine fever and the fatality rate is close to 100% once contracted.  When it has made its way onto a farm; all pigs, whether they have contracted the disease or not will need to be culled.  This endemic has the economic potential to ravage the pig farming industry and the millions of consumers who depend on pork as their source of protein,” says Erasmus.

According to the South African Pork Producers Organisation, there are about 165 commercial pig farmers in South Africa with about 115,000 sows with South Africa consuming about 2000 tonnes of pork meat (fresh and processed) per year.

Erasmus says while the African swine fever is not harmful to humans, it spreads rapidly between pigs and almost all pigs in a sounder of swine may die within seven to ten days. According to the Department of Agriculture, clinical signs and mortality rates can vary according to the virulence of the virus and the type/species of pig.  Acute forms of ASF are characterised by high fever, depression, anorexia and loss of appetite, haemorrhages in the skin (redness of skin on ears, abdomen and legs), abortion in pregnant sows, cyanosis, vomiting, diarrhoea and death.

Subacute and chronic forms are caused by moderately or low virulent viruses, which produce less intense clinical signs that can be expressed for much longer periods. Mortality rates are lower, but can still range from 30-70%. Chronic disease symptoms include loss of weight, intermittent fever, respiratory signs, chronic skin ulcers and arthritis.  Erasmus says the only effective way farmers can deal with the contagion is through effective biosecurity practices.

“Farmers must have strict biosecurity measures in place.  In addition, they need to limit the number of visitors that come onto their farms. When visitors do come on to the farm, they must pass through a foot bath to kill any micro-organisms that may have attached themselves to their shoes.  The same goes for vehicles, they must pass through a wheel dip and vehicle spray to cleanse them of any micro-organisms.  Instilling a culture of impeccable hand hygiene amongst every individual operating on a pig farm will also reduce the risk of spread,” explains Erasmus.

Biosecurity range products cater to all the above-mentioned needs as they can be used to be used by all individuals on the farm. The multi-purpose disinfectants are suitable to be used in footbaths and vehicle sprays as well as a detergent and a decontaminator to use in the cleaning of the animal housing. Other products can even be used to purify the drinking water.

“This next bit sounds painfully obvious, but it is imperative to ensure a supply of clean drinking water is available at all times and that the animals’ housing is regularly cleaned. Cleaning will consist of the removal of all organic material, and once the pens have been thoroughly swept, they need to be scrubbed down and disinfected to sterilize the premise. This must be carried out as often as possible, especially in the midst of an outbreak,” explains Erasmus.

Historically, outbreaks have been reported in Africa and parts of Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. Due to an increase in demand of pork, the disease has been reported in multiple countries across Africa, Asia and Europe, in both domestic and wild pigs.

“The virus is spread by ticks found on wild pigs and by viral particles that can remain dormant on surfaces for about four years.  While a lot of farmers are aware of ASF that could wipe out their livestock, biosecurity on farms is still not taken seriously enough.  Meanwhile, especially for the current African swine fever, biosecurity practices are the only measures that can prevent the spread of the virus and save the potential loss that farmers and consumers could be faced with,” concludes Erasmus.

The South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) coordinates industry interventions and collaboratively manages risks in the value chain to enable the sustainability and profitability of pork producers in South Africa.