The world’s attention has been justifiably fixated on COVID-19 for the past few months. But, a threat that was prevalent prior to the pandemic, African Swine Fever, has continued to ravage the world’s pig population in 2020. “We cannot forget about African Swine Fever,” says the National Pork Board’s Chief Veterinarian Dr. David Pyburn. He explains that a lot of work must be done to continue to keep ASF out of the United States.
Just to jog the memory, African Swine Fever can not affect humans and is a pigs-only disease. At this point in time there is no vaccine. The virus has decimated Asia’s pig population and Dr. Pyburn says the number of pigs culled across the pond numbers in the multi-millions. Pyburn explains that multiple experts have come out in the recent weeks saying that “2020 might in fact be worse than 2019 and we might see higher death loss due to ASF.”
As mentioned previously, the virus has not made it to the United States as of yet. When asked if it is a matter of “if” or “when,” Pyburn says he is hopeful it’s an “if.” He says “we have never had this virus in this country and this virus doesn’t exist in our hemisphere and we want to keep it that way.” Transmission of the contagious disease is incredibly easy and according to the Pork Checkoff’s website, ASF is transmitted to pigs through direct contact with infected pigs, their waste, blood, contaminated clothing, feed, equipment and vehicles, and in some cases, some tick species.
The economic impact African Swine Fever would have on the US pork industry if it were to ever make it to America is simply staggering. According to Dr. Dermot Hayes of Iowa State University, the pork industry would lose up to $15 billion in the first two years of ASF being on American soil and a little over $50 billion in a ten-year span. This is a threat that hangs over an industry already tattered by the impact of COVID-19.
“My obvious hope is that we continue to keep it out and we are successful in keeping it out,” says Dr. Pyburn.