Vigilance can stop evils that lurk

African swine fever may be grabbing the headlines, but that is no reason to overlook impact of other global pathogens.

Kevin.Schulz, senior content specialist

February 26, 2019

4 Min Read
Getty Images News/Ian Waldie

“The Shadow” was a 1930s radio program detective-vigilante-superhero, known for the intro phrase “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” He would lurk appropriately in the shadows seeking to bring criminals to justice.

Global hog producers and veterinarians seek to bring swine pathogens to justice, and there are many figures in the industry doing the work of “The Shadow.”

Since August, African swine fever came out of the shadows into full light as multiple breaks in China began to be reported. More than 100 ASF cases have been reported in 25 Chinese provinces, and ASF appears to be finding its way into other Asian countries, either in infected pigs or in infected meat products. Increased vigilance by airport security (thank you the Beagle Brigade) and on-farm biosecurity protocol will be important in keeping the U.S. swine herd healthy and safe from ASF.

But what about the evils that lurk in the shadows, pathogens or viruses that may fall off the radar due to the spotlight being shown on ASF, classical swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease?

One of the missions of the Swine Health Information Center is to keep an eye on all potential virus threats to the U.S. swine herd. Swine Health Information Center, in collaboration with the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council, developed the Swine Disease Matrix, a prioritized list of endemic and foreign swine pathogens. The Matrix includes an assessment of the diagnostic capabilities for selected pathogens based on a review of available literature. The SHIC Monitoring and Analysis Working Group prioritized the list to help focus the SHIC on the U.S. pork industry’s highest risks. The Matrix is prioritized based on the average 1-10 score of each pathogen for likelihood of entry to the United States; economic effects on production; and effects on domestic and international markets.

The Matrix is a “living document,” and will be updated as an emerging disease is recognized and risk is assessed.

Not surprisingly, FMD, ASF and CSF (9.0, 8.3 and 7.7, respectively) are the top three viruses on the Matrix that had last been updated in September. Next on the list are pseudorabies virus and influenza A, two pathogens U.S. pork producers are familiar with, but sixth on the list is the lesser-known Nipah virus.

Lesser-known, maybe, but Nipah should also be of concern. According to a fact sheet on the SHIC website, Nipah is spread in pigs by direct contact or possibly aerosolized, and in pigs it manifests with respiratory and neurological signs. Young pigs will be most affected with a characteristic “barking” cough. Nipah is zoonotic and causes high fatality rates in humans.

Currently, Nipah remains on the other side of the globe in Australia, Southeast Asia, India and Eastern African islands, with annual outbreaks in India and Bangladesh.

The seriousness of this virus has caught the attention of a global coalition aimed at fighting emerging epidemics.

According to Reuters, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations announced that researchers at Japan’s University of Tokyo would receive $31 million to speed up development of a vaccine against a brain-damaging disease caused by the Nipah virus.

The Nipah virus was first discovered in Malaysia in 1998-99, and appears to be spread by the flying fox, a fruit bat. Humans in Bangladesh were thought to have become infected by consuming date palm juice contaminated with saliva and urine from infected flying foxes.

The Reuters’ article says that more than 100 people died in the 1999 outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore, and about a million pigs were killed to try to halt its spread. At least 17 people were killed in an outbreak in India last year in which 19 cases were reported.

As you see Nipah is a swine herd health concern, but it is also a human health threat, ramping up the global interest in stomping out this disease, or at least preventing its spread. Pathogens that impact a hog producer’s livelihood have become just one more thing on the horizon, but a virus that can also impact human health brings biosecurity measures and preparedness to an entirely different level. Even though the Nipah virus is not grabbing the headlines as ASF has been, let’s keep it that way.

Beware of what lurks in the shadows.

About the Author(s)


senior content specialist, National Hog Farmer

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