Vietnam study tour aims to strengthen swine fever strategy

American group to try to pin down prevention options

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An American hog health expert hopes to learn about common vectors for African swine fever transmission on a trip to Vietnam.

Dr. Paul Sundberg, executive director of the United States-based Swine Health Information Center told the Shakespeare Swine Seminar that he also hoped to clarify cleaning and dis- infection protocols before repopulating an affected production facility, and develop an effective test for ASF based solely on oral fluids.

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“My goal is to have oral fluids being collected by the end of October,” Sundberg said.

He said an oral fluids test would make it much easier to collect on-farm samples and test results would be known much sooner than what is now the case.

Currently, someone with specialized skills must take blood samples from the animals and send them to a laboratory for analysis.

Why it matters: Canada will likely mirror any protocols developed by the U.S.-based group, given the integrated nature of the North American pork sector.

An Aug. 29 news release on the SWIC website about the US$1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture explained it will allow the Iowa-based agency to “start a dialogue between the U.S. and Vietnamese officials, sharing veterinary knowledge and ways to prevent ASF from further spreading.”

Over-arching goals include “build(ing) strategic partnerships while increasing trade of U.S. pork to the region” as well as “inform(ing) North American pork producers about effective ASF preparedness and response.”

Sundberg said not enough is yet known to pinpoint the most likely way this current ASF strain travels from farm to farm.

“At this point, the most probable way for the virus to move around is going to be a contaminated pork product of some kind.”

His example was an employee of a hog farm tossing an unfinished sandwich out a vehicle window, and it was eaten by a feral pig.

Surveillance, however, shouldn’t be limited to overland travellers. Asked by a swine seminar audience member whether authorities at North American airports are taking the ASF threat seriously enough, he responded that this “is a long-term siege” demanding extraordinary security.

Sundberg said it’s good that border control personnel typically “assume it’s positive” whenever they encounter undeclared food products, and those products typically go “straight to the incinerator.” But he would like to see more active detection efforts.

Beyond contaminated food products, it’s known that ASF can survive in feed. But Sundberg said it’s not known if this has actually been a frequent vector of passage onto farms. It is one of the things he hopes to establish through the Vietnam study.

He and his team also plan to look at the process of cleaning and disinfecting affected production facilities, before repopulation. At present, the the protocols vary depending on the country — or, in the case of China, depending on the region. In Russia, it’s nine months. It’s generally less in China — three months, or six months. In both cases, “I don’t know where they got (the depopulation duration) from. They seemed to just pull it out of the air.”

Addressing questions from the swine seminar audience, Sundberg agreed time is of the essence. “It’s a two-year project, but I can’t wait for two years.” He said the sobering 99-to- 99.5 per cent mortality rate of the current strain, and the fact it appears to be “relentless in its movement” away from affected areas, mean the risks are extremely high for Canadian and U.S. producers if ASF arrives at a North American site.

That’s why, he said, U.S.-based organizations will “keep up the pressure” on USDA to have a national strategy in place. And it’s also why he urged those attending the swine seminar to maintain top-level biosecurity measures on their farms, and to always call a veterinarian if a pig dies for unexplained reasons.

“Don’t assume (the cause of death) is the same thing as it was last time.”

About the author

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Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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