An outbreak of African swine fever, also known as “pig Ebola,” is ravaging Asia’s pork industry. Discovered in the early 1900s in Africa, the highly contagious virus kills nearly every pig it infects, causing hemorrhagic illness similar to Ebola in humans. There is no vaccine or treatment for infected pigs and the virus spreads quickly, so producers must kill all infected or exposed animals in an attempt to stop it.
Since last August, around 22 percent of pigs in China have either died from the disease or been killed to stop its spread. Although the worst outbreak is in China, the disease has spread in varying degrees to Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, and Russia.
China is home to around 440 million pigs (half the world’s pig population), and already 1.2 million pigs have been killed to stop the disease, with no end in sight. Vietnam has killed 2 million of its 30 million pigs, while tourists from Europe have spread the disease to wild boars in Poland and Romania. Dirk Pfeiffer, a veterinary epidemiologist at City University of Hong Kong and an expert on African swine fever, stated:
This is the biggest animal disease outbreak we’ve ever had on the planet. It makes the foot and mouth disease and BSE [mad cow disease] outbreaks pale in comparison to the damage that is being done.
According to Dr. Wantanee Kalpravidh, Asia-Pacific regional manager for the UN’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases, pig farmers have little motivation to report outbreaks, as they are not compensated for pigs killed as a result of the disease. She went on to say that cases are likely underestimated and that “there are concerns that the disease will continue to spread across the countries in south-east Asia.”
It is not surprising that the virus is spreading so swiftly, considering that farmed pigs are usually kept in overcrowded, squalid conditions. Many pigs live their entire lives indoors, without proper ventilation, veterinary care, or the ability to exercise or socialize normally. The conditions are often so bad that, in their frustration, pigs have been known to chew the ears, noses, and limbs of other pigs.
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