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Update: African Swine Fever (A viral disease with 100% fatality rate)

Map. ASF situation in Asia from August 2018 to 27 June 2019 (Source: FAO ASF Weekly Update, 27 June 2019)
01/07/2019

Regional update
African swine fever (ASF) is a virus disease endemic to parts of Africa where the virus circulates between warthogs and wild pigs.  The virus persists with a reservoir in soft ticks (Ornithodorus moubata) that can live in warthog burrows.  The virus does not cause significant disease in warthogs or African bush pigs.  When it spills over to domestic pigs, the effects are dramatic.  Almost 100% of infected animals die.  There is no treatment or vaccine.  Control is by “stamping out”, that is, slaughtering the affected herd, disinfecting the premises, and movement control.  Once established in a country, the virus is difficult to eliminate.  The virus is specific to pigs and is not a human health risk.

The virus survives very well in pork meat and other pig products.  It has escaped from Africa a few times.  Europe is currently experiencing a slowly spreading epidemic that involves wild boar in its epidemiology.  European wild boar are as susceptible to the virus as domestic pigs.  The disease was detected in Georgia in 2007.  It spread through Russia and Eastern Europe.  Virus spread is associated with wild boar and infected meat movement.  In 2018 it reached Belgium.

FAO released a rapid risk assessment of ASF introduction in March 2018, titled, African Swine Fever Threatens People’s Republic of China.  In August 2018 the virus was reported in China for the first time.  Later that year it was detected in Mongolia.  In February 2019, it spread to Viet Nam; in April 2019 to Cambodia; and in June 2019 to Lao PDR.  The map below shows the distribution of officially reported outbreaks up to 27 June 2019.

ASF virus has been detected recently in samples collected at international airports in Japan, Thailand and Australia.  The samples were taken from meat and pork products carried by passengers from China. The Chinese authorities (MARA, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs) have reported ASF in Yunnan Province.  In February 2019, China reported a third Yunnan Province outbreak in Nujiang Prefecture, Yunnan Province – see map below.  As this Prefecture is located on the Myanmar border, which is porous to informal trade, the ASF incursion risk increased further.

Noting the disease’s spread since August 2018, Myanmar is at very high risk for ASF incursion.

Myanmar update
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease (ECTAD) in Myanmar is supporting ASF preparedness with the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department (LBVD) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MoALI).  Since the first report in China, FAO has:

  • Invited Myanmar delegates to the Emergency Regional Consultation on African swine fever: Risk reduction and preparedness held in Bangkok, 5-7 September 2018;
  • Provided continuing advice to upgrade capacity in Myanmar Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories (VDL).  This included assessing ability to detect ASF virus in the 2018 Proficiency Testing exercise, confirming Myanmar’s ability to perform the laboratory tests.
  • Supplied PCR reagents to Yangon and Mandalay VDL and reviewed the testing protocol with these labs.
  • In November 2018, FAO and MARA jointly organized the Multilateral Cross-Border Meeting in Greater Mekong Subregion to Strengthen Collaboration of Transboundary Animal Disease Control in Beijing.  LBVD delegates attended.  The meeting included “African Swine Fever Emergency Preparedness training” for Lao PDR, Myanmar, Viet Nam and China;
  • LBVD wrote to the FAO Chief Veterinary Officer in Rome requesting assistance in developing ASF plans, building ASF capacity for veterinarians, and strengthening laboratory capacity during the alert phase in advance of an outbreak;
  • Following LBVD’s letter, the Emergency Management Centre for Animal Health (EMC-AH) deployed a mission team to Myanmar in February 2019.  The team reviewed preparedness and produced a Proposed plan of action for Myanmar, ASF alert phase (no detection) for short term (up to 6 months).
  • ECTAD in Myanmar worked with LBVD to formulate its Risk Communication Strategy, backed up with a training workshop and a practical, written guide translated into Myanmar language.
  • FAO provides weekly updates to the Myanmar authorities, informing them of ASF spread in the Asia region.
  • FAO has been appointed as a member of the LBVD Advisory committee for prevention and control of African swine fever, formed in June 2019.  LBVD has defined the State/Regional level ASF Rapid Response Team.  The Deputy State/Regional LBVD Officer will lead the team.  The team includes district and township LBVD officers, staff from Epidemiology Unit, Administration Section and VDL.


Conclusion
Myanmar is at very high risk of ASF incursion.  The probably inevitable, imminent arrival of the virus will be associated with significant impact on the livelihoods of many Myanmar farmers.  Poor farmers, where farm biosecurity less efficient, and who feed kitchen waste to their pigs, will be particularly vulnerable.

China, the world’s biggest pig producer is facing market shortages soon.  To date, the pork supply has remained relatively stable, but this may partly reflect farmers selling early when ASF occurs nearby.  A reduction in the Chinese breeding herd and consequent pork shortage may push up poultry production there.  The risk to humans from zoonotic, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), particularly the H7N9 subtype, may then increase.  Myanmar is vulnerable to HPAI virus incursion from the informal cross-border poultry trade with China.