26 May 2011 The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for stepping up measures to prevent the further spread of a deadly pig disease that is already present in the Caucasus region and Russia and is likely to spread in the coming months.
“African Swine Fever is fast becoming a global issue,” Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer, states in a news release issued by the Rome-based agency.
“It now poses an immediate threat to Europe and beyond. Countries need to be on the alert and to strengthen their preparedness and contingency plans,” he added.
There is currently no vaccine for African Swine Fever (ASF), which is very often lethal to pigs but is not harmful to humans, according to FAO. The disease was introduced into Georgia from southern Africa in late 2006, entering through the Black Sea port of Poti, where garbage from a ship was taken to a dump where pigs came to feed.
FAO says the disease is now spreading northwards at the rate of roughly 350 kilometres a year. Outbreaks are distinctly seasonal, with the highest number of cases registered in the summer and autumn. But the agency warns that as the disease wave travels northwards a separate phenomenon, long-distance “jumps,” is also occurring.
“ASF long-distance jumps are food-borne, with virus surviving in pig meat products taken by travellers. At the destination, food scraps may be fed to pigs, setting off a new outbreak,” notes FAO.
“The frequency of such jumps is increasing as the originally-infected territory enlarges. The ASF virus strain now spreading is a very aggressive one.”
The disease is now considered as being established in Georgia, Armenia and the southern part of Russia.
Countries are encouraged to carry out risk analyses to evaluate the situation and assess potential consequences. “Such analyses should pave the way for fully-fledged contingency plans and provide the rationale for selecting disease-control strategies,” states FAO.
Preventive strategies include quarantine, on-farm security and other measures aimed at minimizing the risk of the disease being introduced and becoming established.
Early-warning contingency plans include epidemiological information-gathering, training and awareness campaigns.
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