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African swine fever ‘slowly spreading’ in EU

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By Josh Loeb

African swine fever (ASF) is spreading in the EU, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded in a new report.

In a report, published earlier this month, EFSA stated that ASF-affected areas in the EU are ‘progressively expanding’.

The disease is currently ‘spreading’, albeit ‘slowly,’ within the bloc, EFSA’s analysis concludes.

The finding is significant because the European Commission has previously stopped short of acknowledging that the virus is spreading inside of the EU. It has previously said only that the virus is ‘present’ in the EU.

Areas of the EU affected by ASF are ‘essentially contiguous, except for isolated introductions in Czechia [the Czech Republic] (now resolved), western Poland and Belgium,’ EFSA’s report highlighted.

It went on to add: ‘Backyard farms present particular challenges in an ASF eradication programme, including uncontrolled movements of pigs and people, poor biosecurity and the identification of holdings.

‘Human-mediated spread, for example between local villages, has been a feature of the ASF epidemic in areas where backyard farms are particularly common.’

The issue of whether or not ASF is ‘spreading’ in the EU or is merely ‘present’ has been a point of contention in the past.

Last year the APHA made alterations to a poster warning of the risk of ASF reaching the UK after the European Commission complained about wording that suggested that the virus was ‘spreading’ within central and eastern areas of the EU (VR, 16 November 2019, vol 185, p 588).

The word ‘spreading’ was subsequently substituted for the word ‘present’ in the poster, and an accompanying image showing a map of Europe was also altered.

Following EFSA’s findings, the Commission – the body that runs the EU – was immediately urged by National Pig Association chief executive Zoe Davies to cease ‘denying’ the extent of the disease within the trading bloc.

It’s time the European Commission pulled its head up out of the sand

‘The European Commission is now going to have to accept that ASF is spreading in the EU. They can’t deny that,’ Davies told Vet Record. ‘It’s time the European Commission pulled its head up out of the sand and worked with those affected countries to deal with this situation properly.’

The European Commission’s spokesperson in charge of fielding queries about ASF was approached by email for comment but did not respond.

Defra, the sponsor department for the APHA, has pointed out that ASF posters are kept under regular review, and, where appropriate, will be updated in due course.

While the EFSA report was commissioned by the European Commission, EFSA’s role is to provide independent scientific advice and opinion and this does not represent an official change in terminology.

There has been mounting unsease among pig farmers in some parts of continental Europe in recent months following news that the disease had spread to within around seven miles from Germany’s border with Poland.

There are currently several official ASF outbreaks in Poland. Germany, which has hitherto managed to avoid being affected by the disease, is Europe’s largest pork producer and its export trade could be harmed by any outbreak within its borders.

Elena Nalon, a senior veterinary adviser at the lobbying organisation Eurogroup for Animals, said that if ASF spread to Germany there could also be animal welfare implications.

She wrote on Twitter: ‘Just thinking about the scale of the pig massacre (no other terminology comes to mind) that an ASF outbreak would cause in Germany makes me sick.’

ASF can devastate pig herds but is not zoonotic, and, although few commercial pig farms in Europe have been affected, culls have recently been announced at affected farms in some areas in the east of the EU. ●

‘Promising’ vaccine hope for ASF

A new experimental vaccine for African swine fever (ASF) has been developed by US researchers.

The vaccine, the work of which was published in the Journal of Virology, was created by deleting a previously uncharacterised gene – I177L – from the ASFV-G strain of the disease. ASFV-G is highly virulent and has been the cause of the recent outbreaks of the disease affecting pigs in Asia and eastern Europe. There is currently no commercially available vaccine and the disease is controlled by quarantine and slaughter.

The researchers found that the new vaccine produces complete virus attenuation in pigs in both low and high doses when they were challenged 28 days after inoculation.

Lead author of the paper and senior scientist at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center Douglas Gladue said more work needed to be done before the vaccine can become commercially available, but that it ‘shows promise’.

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