EFSA has published its latest annual report on the presence of African swine fever (ASF) in the EU. The period covered by the report is from November 2018 to October 2019. Czechia became officially ASF-free but the disease still is confirmed as present in Slovakia, meaning there continue to be nine affected countries in the EU.
ASFV (African swine fever virus) is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and causes a hemorrhagic fever with high mortality rates in domestic pigs and wild boars but it does not cause disease in humans (1). Symptoms of this fever are loss of appetite, lack of energy, abortions and internal bleeding. In white-skinned pigs, the extremities turn blueish-purple and haemorrhages become apparent on the ears and abdomen. Groups of infected pigs lie huddled together shivering, breathing abnormally, sometimes coughing and they do not want to get up. If forced to stand, they appear unsteady on their legs. (2)
The history of disease incursions into the European Union suggests that initial outbreaks were often initiated by illegal importation of meat and derived products (4). In Europe, it has been endemic in Sardinia since 1978. In 2007 outbreaks occurred in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the European part of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. There are a common factor that explain why the virus in this countries become endemic: the presence of brado animals and the combination of estimated wild boar density. (3)
From Russia and Belarus, the disease spread to the European Union. Lithuania reported cases of African swine fever in wild boar for the first time in January 2014. Poland followed in February 2014 and Latvia and Estonia in June and September of the same year. The disease continued to spread and, by the end of 2019.
Figure 1. Shows the network of fences that have being built in Belgium to stop the spread of ASF. Red dots are positive cases and the pink area is a presumed infected area
The report shows that all phases of the epidemic are now represented in the EU but the situation varies between Member States, due to multiple factors including the structure of domestic pig production (in particular, the proportion of backyard holdings), geographical conditions, and the characteristics of the wild boar population.
Backyard (non-commercial) farms present particular challenges for an ASF eradication programme, such as uncontrolled movements of pigs and people, poor biosecurity and the identification of holdings.
Also, the report shows a seasonal pattern in the detection of ASF-positive samples, for example, an apparent summer peak in the proportion of positive cases and lower during spring in Latvia and Estonia.
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