AFRICAN SWINE FEVER: A PRIMER
Agriculture|September - October 2020
AFRICAN SWINE FEVER (ASF), also called African Swine Flu, is a highly contagious viral disease that affects wild and domesticated pigs. It cannot be passed on to humans, but is nonetheless an illness that should be contained and eradicated because of its leathal effect on hogs.
YVETTE TAN

According to Dr. Deo Alcantara, Assistant Professor at UP College of Veterinary Medicine in the University of the Philippines Los Baños, the first incident of ASF was reported in 1921. It has spread through several continents, including Europe, Eastern Europe, and South America. It also spread through Spain, where it first appeared in the 1960 and was finally eradicated 1995 through the thorough and widespread implementation of preventative and curative measures. It is commonly believed that the virus entered China through Russia in 2018, and from there, it spread to the Philippines.

ASF IN THE PHILIPPINES

“The first incidents [in the Philippines] were reported in Rizal. That particular outbreak was associated with the very common swill feeding of their backyard farms and apparently, the swill they were feeding had contaminated meat,” Dr. Alcantara says. “The speculation [is that the contaminated meat] came directly from smuggled pork from China, which at this point was already highly infected and the virus was basically ravaging the whole swine industry of China already.”

He adds, “The speculation was apparently in Rizal, swill feeding was a very common practice. You were hearing that these backyard farms were buying their swill at a very cheap price-P115 per sack. At the end of the day, if you’re raising pigs, that’s a very [cheap] feed for your animals.”

Aware of the ASF outbreak in China, the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) had issued a ban on the importation of meat products from affected countries. However, tainted meat was still making its way to Philippine shores. It is speculated that the disease was first observed in Rizal in June 2019, but wasn’t officially reported until August, after its presence was properly confirmed.

ALARMING SPREAD

After the announcement, BAI instituted protocols to contain the disease but by this time, infections had already cropped up in Quezon City, also due to swill feeding.

“Controls were not that effective. A lot of the pigs that were being raised that were apparently infected were subsequently were not prevented from entering slaughterhouses in Bulacan, thus the start of the outbreak and incidences in Bulacan on top of the problems that we saw on the news that with dead pigs that they started throwing their dead carcasses in the estuaries and riverbanks. Those were very complicated situations as to why the situation blew up,” Dr. Alcantara says.

“And now, as it’s spreading throughout the country, we’re seeing its mostly a man-driven or infection is through carriers like persons. People are the ones actually causing the main spread of the disease now,” he adds.

The veterinarian explains that in the wild, ASF is spread through infected wild boars. In the Philippines´case, however, since it hasn’t surfaced in the wild pig population, the prevailing theory is that it reached local hogs through human activity.

“It’s a virus that could really survive outside of the environment,” Dr. Alcantara says.

“Swill feeding was probably the cause of the initial entry, but ultimately, the pigs were somehow able to go into the slaughterhouses in Bulacan and from there, it could have had direct… some people with their vehicles going to several farms and ultimately, it now spread via biyahero (middleman). I mean, your middlemen don’t normally practice biosecurity when they go in and out of your slaughterhouses. Hence, their vehicles and their personnel just go to the farm and select the animals they want to buy, among other modes of transmitting the disease to other farms.”

ASF SYMPTOMS

The public has largely swept ASf under the rug because it isn’t infectious to humans. This is dangerous, as the disease is highly communicable among swine, and whether humans can get a disease or not, eating tainted meat is unhealthy and unsanitary.

What are the symptoms of ASF? Dr. Alcantara enumerates:

“You see high fever as a sign that the pigs are in discomfort and have had a fever. The reddening, blotches of red discoloration on the animal on the ears, on the belly, on its extremities. Animals would have bloody diarrhea. You’ll also see respiratory signs sneezing, coughing, you’ll see death on affected animals,” he says.

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