ASF cases in European wild boar rising as cases in domestic pigs fall

The number of outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) confirmed in domestic pig herds in Europe is falling, but cases in wild boar continue to rise.

The Animal and Health Plant Agency’s (APHA) latest ASF update shows there were163 cases in domestic pigs during December and January, continuing the declining trend. This compares with more than 100 cases in each of October and November and more than 600 per month in July and August.

Since the last APHA report in December, outbreaks in domestic pigs have only been observed in three countries, with the vast majority of these in Romania (153 in December and January) and cases also in Bulgaria (9) and Ukraine (1), with a few also in west Russia.

The majority of the recent domestic cases involved backyard small holdings, although both Bulgaria and Romania have reported outbreaks on commercial holdings – one in Romania (24,614 pigs), and two in Bulgaria on large industrial farms close to the city of Varna, affecting over 60,000 pigs in total.

Hungary, to date, not reported any outbreaks in domestic pigs, despite the large number of infected wild boar.

Wild boar cases on the rise 

There were 1,135 confirmed cases in wild boar across 13 European countries in January, led by Poland (413), Hungary (365), Romania (142) and Bulgaria (71). Cases are rising in most countries where infection is present and the January figure compared with 724 cases in December. The number has been steadily rising since the 257 confirmed cases in wild boar in June 2019.

The update, published before ASF was confirmed in Greece, shows that it was expecting an ASF outbreak and had recently stepped up surveillance as a result of the situation in Bulgaria, where there have been 138 cases of ASF in wild boar since November 2019 and 49 cases in domestic pigs since July.

“Some are close to the borders of currently ASF-free North Macedonia and Greece, both of which are already on high alert; having been identified as two of the nine Balkan countries to have a very high chance (66-100%) of disease spread inside their borders, within a year of introduction, in a recent EFSA risk assessment (EFSA, 2019),” the APHA update states.

The report also gives an update in the situation on the German-Polish border, with ASF recently found within 12km of the border, as high numbers of cases in wild boar continue to be found in western Poland.

The German authorities have begun building fences along the Polish border in the state of Brandenburg, and it is intended that an electric fence will be erected in Saxony along a high risk sector of the border with Poland.

This is in addition to the fences constructed within Poland to prevent spread between provinces. Some states in Germany have relaxed laws around hunting in an effort to reduce wild boar numbers.

UK risk assessment

The risk remains at medium for the entry of contaminated or infected products into UK at present. APHA outlined the main risks and stressed the actions that need to be taken by all parties, including producers, to keep ASF out.

APHA said: “Border checks on passengers are paramount, as are publicity campaigns aimed at reaching the travelling public and reminding them that bringing back products of animal origin from outside the EU or from a region in the EU under disease restrictions is not allowed.

“Commercially produced products which can be safely traded in the EU will be labelled as such. Home produced products, for which the origins of the pork used are unclear, are a particular concern.”

“Travellers from an affected area in the EU or anywhere in Asia and Africa must not bring back products of pig origin – including ham, sausages or pâté – or any equipment or other goods which could potentially be contaminated with ASF virus, to the UK. Travellers from Asia and other third country areas who bring meat or dairy products can also face prosecution and a large fine.

“Disease can be spread by pig keepers and members of the public feeding catering waste, kitchen scraps or pork products to their livestock. It is illegal to do so.

“The risk of exposure to the pig population in the UK is highly dependent on the level of biosecurity on individual pig premises but is still considered to be low. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.