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ASF lessons learned from Eastern Europe

Dr Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian with the National Pork Producers Council, shares lessons learned from her travels to Eastern Europe to learn about their outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF).

21 January 2020, at 11:00am
Dr Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian with the National Pork Producers Council, speaks to The Pig Site's Sarah Mikesell

Dr Wagstrom has made three trips to Eastern Europe in the last five to six years, allowing her to monitor the virus’ spread and see what’s happening on the ground. The first trip was through Russia; the second trip was to the Baltic nations of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania; and in January 2019, she was in Poland, and then Germany and Denmark to assess how they're preparing for a potential outbreak.

“What we've learned is there are countries that have very good programs of animal identification and veterinary oversight. They're identifying outbreaks with official diagnostic tests then are taking steps to stop movement of animals and to depopulate positive farms,” she noted. “Because it's in their wild boar population, they're doing things like paying hunters to turn in dead wild boar when found. They're asking hunters to have boar that they have captured taken to be tested before they're used for any consumption of meat.”

Proactive, coordinated effort

If hunters are field dressing, they now dispose of any offal (internal organs) in boar-proof cisterns, so they're not continuing to spread the ASF virus. They're also focusing heavily on diagnostics with wild boar to see where the positive populations are located as well as in their domestic sites. This strong surveillance programme has allowed them to set up regional zones, negative zones, zones with positive wild boar but negative domestic pigs, and zones with both positive domestic pigs and wild boar.

The European Union has done hundreds of thousands of diagnostic tests to monitor for and identify ASF in their region. They're investing millions of euros for depopulation and in surveillance costs as well as conducting ASF research, according to Dr Wagstrom.

“It’s an all-out EU effort to try to control the spread,” she said. “The European Commission has a very transparent programme. They have programme standards that may vary a little by country as far as how they may be incentivising people to turn in boar. But there's a very transparent look at what the situation is. They've got the diagnostic tests and the movement records to back up those claims, so it's a very coordinated effort.”

The biggest challenge with domestic herds is smaller farmers who have outdoor pigs that may encounter wild boar.

Is eradication an option?

As recently as a few decades ago, Mediterranean countries were able to eradicate ASF. They had to deal with not only feral pigs and their production population, but also the soft body tick which carries the disease. With proper diagnostics and controlling movement, they truly feel that eradication within the domestic pig population is possible, explained Dr Wagstrom.

“It is more challenging to control ASF in the wild boar population,” she noted. “That's the question - do we just keep trying to tamp ASF down in the wild boar population and protect the domestic pigs and then consider maybe a compartment of domestic pigs we know are negative? Then ASF in the wild boar population is under control but not necessarily absolutely eradicated.”

Can trade continue?

“Trade can be tricky because there'll be country-to-country negotiations,” she explained. “Obviously the easiest thing is to say, ‘here's a line - this is negative, that's positive.’ It can be done with proper diagnostics and surveillance, so you can say we're confident this is negative, and this is positive.”

However, the tricky part is when you get to a compartment where you believe the domestic pigs are negative, but there is still positive wild boar. Then, it’s about creating confidence and negotiating with trading partners. Robust surveillance, robust testing and control of movements are essential to establish a compartment.

“One of the things that we were so impressed with was how each of these countries was transparent - how they talked to us and showed us their systems. We visited farms, we visited hunting clubs, and we really saw that there was a sense of urgency,” she noted. “This is a situation they want to handle, and they were committing the resources. They were rigorous in their controls and rigorous in their testing, and it was a national effort. That was very, very impressive.”

For more information about African swine fever diagnostics, click here.