2019 is the Year of the Pig, but unfortunately, 2019 has not been a good year for pigs in Asia.
A virus discovered recently in China's pig farms is spreading rapidly. More than a million pigs have been culled and researchers believe there are many more that are infected.
Not only has the disease affected all areas of China, but it has spread to neighboring countries such as Mongolia, North Korea, and Vietnam. Slaughterhouses have been closed, and disinfection is currently underway. Let's take a look at the virus and how its impact is being felt, not just in China, but around the world.
African Swine Flu
African swine flu is a disease caused by the African swine fever virus (ASFV).
The virus originated in sub-Saharan Africa and was spread by ticks among wild pigs. Explorers discovered the virus after bringing their domesticated pigs over to areas infected with the virus. The first outbreak was recorded in Kenya in 1921, and by the mid 20th century, the virus had spread internationally with outbreaks in Portugal and Spain.
Like all viruses, the ASFV is a microbe that infects the cells of the host organism it lives in. The ASFV is limited to pig hosts and will not affect humans. The virus spreads rapidly among pigs when they come in contact with the body fluids of an infected pig or when pigs consume virus-infected meat or pig feed. Unfortunately, this virus is hardy and can be transported over long distances when it sticks to vehicle tires, or to shoes and clothing of workers.
Symptoms of the disease include high fevers, a loss of appetite, and weakness, leading eventually to death in most cases within 7-10 days. There is no vaccine and because symptoms appear a few days after a pig is infected, the disease can start spreading even before it is first noticed.
China is the largest pork producer in the world with over 440 million pigs. The country is trying hard to contain the disease, with the only option to cull (kill) the animals to prevent the spread. This is the largest outbreak in animals and worse than the avian flu outbreak of 1996 when 250 million poultry were culled.
Thousands of farmers in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries who raise pigs for their livelihood have been impacted by this recent crisis. There is a concern that the actual numbers of infected pigs might be much higher because these small farmers might choose to sell their pigs or pig meat instead of killing the animals.
Countries around the world have restricted the import of pork and pork products from Asian countries. The World Pork Expo has been canceled this year due to concerns. The U.S and European countries are taking precautions to make sure that the virus does not spread to pig populations in their countries.
As long as pork is cooked, the virus should not pose any problems. Nevertheless, this outbreak will cause us to rethink how meat is produced and consumed around the world.
Sources: VOX, Guardian, Bloomberg, nih.gov