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AS the name suggests, African swine fever (ASF) has for many years been thought of as ‘one of those obscure diseases affecting pigs a long way off in Africa’ which do not pose a significant risk to pig populations in the UK and Europe. This was indeed the case up until the summer of 2007, when African swine fever virus (ASFV) appeared for the first time in the Caucasus region.
Since its introduction into Georgia, ASFV has spread rapidly into vast areas of western and southern Russia, where it is currently circulating out of control in domestic and wild pig populations (Gogin and others 2013). This year, the virus has spread to the edges of Europe, with outbreaks reported in both the Ukraine and Belarus, putting the very large pig populations of Eastern Europe at risk. It is frightening even to contemplate the scenario of this virus heading eastwards into China, which is the world's largest pork producer, producing around half of the world's pork.
I still remember clearly the phone call I received from a colleague in Georgia on a hot summer day in 2007. At the end of the long conversation I was convinced that ASFV was spreading out of control in Georgia. Why did I come to this conclusion? The description was of fields of dead pigs of all ages as far as the eye could see, with red haemorrhagic patches covering their bodies; of pigs being buried and thrown into rivers in their thousands; and of pigs showing clinical signs dying within a few days. My thoughts were that this could only be …
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