Study finds African swine fever virus can survive international feed shipments

April 12, 2018

Animal producers and animal health experts often find it scary to consider the question: "What would happen if a foreign disease somehow found its way into my region?"

It’s critical to figure out the circumstances that might enable such a situation in order to prevent it. That’s why Kansas State University researcher Megan Niederwerder delved into the issue by researching simulated feed shipments, and how one deadly pathogen might stowaway into unaffected regions this way.

By imitating the conditions of a cargo ship using an environmental chamber, Niederwerder found that African swine fever virus (ASFV) could survive in feed over, for example, a 30-day trans-Atlantic journey. It’s the first documented case of the virus being able to survive such conditions.

If the fever were to reach the U.S., where it currently doesn’t exist, experts estimate potential losses of $16.5 billion to the swine industry.

Niederwerder’s study considered every stage of the international feed export process, including shipping, transport and eventual consumption on the farm, and determined what amount of swine fever virus in the feed was required for the virus to spread. The study also examined whether there were ways to reduce the risk of transmission, like feed additives.

“This research is extremely important to the swine industry, not only in Kansas and the U.S. but also around the world,” Niederwerder said. “There are many countries, including the U.S., that are currently free of ASFV and it is critical to understand how we can prevent this virus from being introduced.”

In the end, Niederwerder hopes the study, and her further research, can help countries reduce contamination risks in their ports. Although the study focused on one country and one disease, its findings might be helpful in analyzing risks posed by other diseases as well.

What is African swine fever virus?

ASFV is a pig disease that’s both highly contagious and very deadly. It has no cure or vaccine.

Symptoms include a hemorrhagic fever that increases in intensity until the infected pigs lose their appetite and die. Infected pigs might lie in groups, with labored breathing, coughing, and weakness. Less severe infections can cause weight loss, ulcers and swollen joints.

The virus has a high fatality rate in pigs, but it doesn’t affect humans or any other animals. It’s most common in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia.

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