Protect Our Pigs: Next step in fight against African swine fever

No matter size and scale, all U.S. pork producers need to be on same page with ASF biosecurity protocols.

Ann Hess, Content Director

June 30, 2022

6 Min Read

If African swine fever arrived in the United States, it is estimated it would cost $50 billion over the course of 10 years to eradicate the disease. With the industry moving around a million pigs per day to 17 different states, it would spread rapidly, says USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Jack Shere and it would not only affect the swine industry, but several associated businesses, with some estimates showing an $80 billion impact on the country.

Shere says that's why APHIS has invested more than $500 million to prevent the spread of ASF and to enhance surveillance, testing and response preparations in the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as work with ASF-positive nations, such as the Dominican Republic and Haiti, to mitigate the virus.

"USDA is working every day to stop this disease from breaching our borders. We're working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. We're working to eliminate feral hogs, both in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico. We're creating active and passive surveillance plans in the United States and Puerto Rico," Shere says. "We know that our commercial pork producers and veterinarians and pig owners are among the nation's first line of defense, and that is very important against African swine fever."

To further support the industry, and to prevent ASF introduction, APHIS recently launched the Protect Our Pigs initiative to provide the most up-to-date information on ASF as well as free resources. The new Protect Our Pigs website will house materials such as downloadable fact sheets and posters, instructional videos, shareable social media graphics, a new interactive biosecurity guide and the latest disease updates. If ASF is detected in the United States, APHIS will be ready to respond immediately with actionable information and resources for pig owners and the public.

"Protecting our pigs" is very important to southeast Minnesota pork producer Pete Thome. While biosecurity is a daily practice on Thome's farrow-to-finish operation, he says what might be considered "standard industry practices," should be implemented across all sectors of pig production.

"There's many different ways to raise swine in today's industry, whether that be a larger commercial operation or a backyard hobby, but it's very important that whatever size and scale that you are, that we're all on the same page when it comes to ASF and practicing these biosecurity protocols because we are on the same team," Thome says. "Making sure that if it is introduced, it does not spread amongst our herds and making sure 4-H, FFA, Jackpot Shows, smaller herds are practicing these biosecurity protocols on a daily basis, just like we do in a larger commercial operation."

Those biosecurity protocols include showering in/out of each barn, wearing designated boots and clothes for each barn, sanitizing vehicles weekly and working with feed mills and suppliers/vendors that also practice strong biosecurity measures. While these measures may seem excessive to non-commercial pig owners, Thome says the thought of ASF reaching the U.S. swine herd and its impact on the industry keeps many producers, including himself, up at night.

"Educating your employees, working with your veterinarian are all very crucial things on a daily basis," Thome says. "Just like we tell our employees, safety is No. 1, safety does not take a day off. Well, neither does biosecurity."

With ASF spreading via three different transmission routes — direct contact (saliva, urine, feces), indirect contact (contaminated feed, infected pork products) or insects (soft ticks) biosecurity needs to be a critical component of any farm, says Iowa Pork Producers Association Producer Education Director Jamee Eggers. She says the first protocol that needs to be implemented is limiting pigs' contact with other pigs, wild or domesticated.

"So, the pigs on our farm are housed indoors, but for outdoor house pigs, it's important to make sure the fences are solid and not allowing pigs to have contact with other wild pigs," Eggers says.

The second way producers can protect pigs from ASF is by not feeding food waste, especially any waste containing meat to their pigs.

"Our pigs eat a traditional corn and soybean balanced diet, but for other farmers that might be utilizing some other alternative feedstuffs for their pigs, ensuring there is no food waste in there, especially that with meat," Eggers says.

The third step is practicing good biosecurity on site, such as having a dedicated set of clothing and boots, that's only used around those pigs there.

"Pig owners should not share equipment such as buckets and feeders with other pigs and they also need to make sure anyone visiting their farm or pigs has not been around other pigs and wears coveralls and boots specifically for that farm," Eggers says. "And lastly, very closely monitoring pigs for any signs of sickness and notifying a veterinarian, if they have any concerns."

National Pork Producers Council Director of Animal Health Anna Forseth says it's important that producers understand that the clinical presentation of ASF can vary and can be influenced by a variety of factors.

"The strain of the virus can influence the virulence and some strains can cause much more severe acute disease than other strains," Forseth says. "We have seen this to be true in recent outbreaks in both Asia and Hispaniola and as we learn more about African swine fever, we understand that it may not necessarily present cases of very high mortality very quickly."

The clinical signs producers should be watching for include:

  • High fever

  • Decreased appetite

  • Weakness or lethargy

  • Red or blotchy skin lesions

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea or vomiting

  • Respiratory issues, including coughing or difficulty breathing

"The mortality rate can vary but can be up to 100% of infected animals. Notable necropsy findings may include an enlarged spleen or varying degrees of hemorrhage in the lymph nodes, or the kidneys," says Forseth.

ASF can also mimic domestic diseases, including porcine reproductive and respiratory disease and Salmonella, so Forseth says it's important that in situations where pigs have signs consistent to ASF, even though they're also consistent to domestic diseases, they are reported to a veterinarian. That veterinarian will then work with state and federal animal health officials to determine the need for further evaluation and diagnostic testing.

"Quick thinking and communication by producers are what will be required for quick detection of this disease and it's going to be critical that we detect it quickly to prevent a large outbreak," Forseth says. "There is background surveillance testing that's currently underway for both African swine fever and classical swine fever to help support this goal of early detection along with increasing laboratory testing capacity and an increase in the number of approved sample types for African swine fever detection.

"So, producers, if you see something, say something. Don't just assume it's not a foreign disease. Talk with animal health officials, your veterinarian, and work with them to determine whether or not a diagnostic plan is needed."

If pig owners or producers suspect a case of ASF in their pigs, Shere says report the signs immediately. They can do so by contacting their state veterinarian's office or by calling the USDA hotline at 1-866-536-7593.

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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