Preparing for coronavirus and ASF

With increasing rumblings about the latest flu virus to hit the world, news of this coronavirus or, to state its official title, COVID-19, has taken the media by storm ever since it emerged in Wuhan City in China back in December. 

The panic mill has certainly gone into overdrive as images of hazmat-suited health officials roaming hospitals chock full of poor souls all quarantined up to the nines have circulated and the number of people and countries affected is increasing by the day.

People are cancelling holidays, avoiding public places and quite a few schools and doctor’s surgeries have shut as a precaution. While any new flu variant is potentially serious, it really does need putting into context, and I’m sick of feeling like I’m going to be lynched every time I sneeze on the flipping tube…

Every year, one billion people get flu and up to 650,000 die from it. At the time of writing (late-Feb), COVID-19 has thus far claimed a total of 2,700 people with 80,000 affected, largely contained to China. In the UK only 19 people have tested positive so far with, thankfully, no deaths.

You could say that any number is too high, but in the scheme of things, this really is just A.N.Other flu variant.

Having said that though, people have serious concerns about maintaining staffing levels and what they would do, in terms of managing pigs, if more staff are off than usual.

Public Health England has some very useful advice for businesses in relation to staff (see NPA website for the link), but largely this is just standard advice about biosecurity that people working with animals should be adhering to already. Wash your hands, cover your nose when you sneeze and use a tissue! 

Clearly anyone who has been to any of the ‘at risk’ countries listed should self-quarantine for 14 days, if worried, but most people that are infected will only have mild symptoms (81% according to the WHO).

The Foreign Office is currently only suggesting people avoid travel to some areas in China, South Korea and the hot spot towns in Italy, and although this advice may change, it clearly demonstrates that most places aren’t really deemed a threat at present.

Thankfully, although pigs do suffer from other types of coronavirus (porcine epidemic diarrhoea (PED) virus is one), this version appears to have originated in bats… and so far there has been no evidence of transfer to pigs, but people should always be careful!

In other news, we held a successful ASF planning day with Defra/APHA and industry a couple of weeks ago to identify all the outstanding issues relating to notifiable disease outbreaks and to see if we can find some solutions. Although, as often happens with this type of event, there were many more questions than answers, we now have a good list of things to go at, which will hopefully make everyone that little bit better informed and more prepared.

There will be a full blown exercise for ASF in May, which will also provide another good opportunity for us all to test how ready we are.

The new Defra Code for the welfare of pigs also came into force on March 1. We will be fighting hard for a good transition period, however, to give us time to explain to you all what you need to be aware of, and we will be having a crucial interpretation meeting with PVS, APHA and Defra to bottom out what they will be expecting when APHA comes on farm.

We will be covering everything from lux and ammonia to tail docking and casualty slaughter. I will be taking very detailed notes, as I suspect what is agreed here will need to be referred to many times in future!

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About The Author

Dr Zoë Davies is chief executive of the NPA. For more information visit: www.npa-uk.org.uk