Questions and Answers on African Swine Fever (ASF)
African swine fever (ASF) is a severe viral infection which exclusively affects pigs (domestic and feral pigs) and is fatal to them. The disease does not pose a risk to human health. ASF has to-date never occurred in Germany. An incursion of ASF into Germany would have severe implications for the animals as well as for the economy. An incursion into the wild boar population would be critical, since possibilities to control the disease are limited.
Can humans be infected with the virus?
No. The African swine fever virus (ASFV) only infects pigs (domestic and feral pigs).
How can ASF be detected in infected animals (domestic and feral pigs)?
Clinical signs differ a great deal! In domestic pigs and European feral pigs, the infection leads to severe but unspecific general symptoms such as fever, weakness, loss of appetite, impaired coordination and breathing problems. Diarrhoea and a tendency to bleed (nasal bleeding, bloody diarrhoea, skin haemorrhages) can also occur. Infected animals may show a reduced readiness to take flight ("staying in the wallow") or other particularities such as reluctance to move or disorientation. The disease affects all age-groups and sexes and leads to the death of the animal within seven to ten days in almost all cases.
When eviscerating the carcasses, attention should be paid to whether the lymph nodes are enlarged or "bloody", whether the spleen is enlarged and whether there are haemorrhages (petechiae and ecchymoses) in the organs, the skin and subcutis. The lungs and respiratory tracts tend to be filled with foam. Absence of these signs does not exclude ASF.
If such unspecific symptoms occur, the competent veterinary office of the district or independent urban municipality should be notified.
How is ASF transmitted?
The virus can be transmitted directly and spread from pig to pig via bodily fluids, particularly blood, or indirectly via food derived from pigs or equipment contaminated with the ASFV.
Who is competent in Germany for preventive measures and control of ASF in case of an outbreak?
The first point of contact is the competent veterinary office of the district or the independent urban municipality.
What happens if ASF is detected in Germany?
The Ordinance on the Protection against Swine Fever and African Swine Fever (Swine Fever Ordinance) sets the legal framework on controlling the disease. In case of an outbreak among domestic pig herds, all pigs of the affected herd would have to be culled and safely disposed of. Large-scale restricted areas and monitoring areas would be established, in which the movement of animals and their products from and into the holdings would be banned. Both domestic and feral pig herds would be tested in great detail in these zones. Comprehensive testing on the introduction of the infectious agent would likewise be carried out.
If ASF were detected in wild boar, a so-called zone at risk would be established. It would then be prohibited to move domestic pigs into and out of this area. If required, wild boar would be hunted more intensively. Any wild boar that was killed or found dead would be examined. Further hygiene measures for disease control would be applied (such as centralised collection of viscera, if required centralised evisceration of killed wild boar.
What preventive measures can be taken to prevent ASFV from spreading?
ASF is incurable and there is no vaccination against the disease which is why only hygienic measures and population regulation can be used to prevent and control the disease.
What can farmers do to protect their herds from infection?
Farmers should comply with the general hygiene and biosecurity measures and the regulations of the Pig Husbandry Hygiene Ordinance. If acute symptoms occur which cannot be clearly ascribed to a different disease and which do not disappear following the administration of antibiotics, appropriate samples should be sent to the respective competent testing facility of the Länder to have them tested for a possible ASF infection. Farm veterinarians and farmers are both urgently requested to send in samples (particularly blood samples, but also other types of samples) to get diagnostic clarification on general fever infections, abortions or an increased number of fallen animals in pig holdings. Cooperation of pig farmers is vital to a functioning early-warning system.
What can hunters do to prevent the spread of the disease?
Hunters should pay attention to whether there are an increased number of game found dead and, if required, send samples to the competent veterinary testing facility. Ideally, these samples should consist of sweat or spleen, otherwise samples of other organs or a bone may also be sent in. Even putrefying parts can still be tested. For appropriate sampling, samples should be taken with a swab and transferred into sealable plastic tubes (these can be requested from the competent veterinary authority). Particular care should be taken when handling equipment that was in contact with sweat, including boots, cloths, tarps or pack frames, knives and clothing. The Baltic States in particular are an attractive place for hunting tourism. Game trophies and wild boar products pose a significant risk in case of an outbreak, the same applies to any clothing worn and equipment used. This is why all hunters are required to place particular emphasis on hygienic measures when hunting in affected areas. Bringing back unprocessed trophies or meat from these regions is forbidden.
Why can bringing back meat products from other countries result in the spread of the disease?
The ASFV is exceptionally resistant. Fresh, frozen, salted meat, smoked meat and sausage products can be infectious for domestic and feral pigs for a long time. In order to prevent the incursion of animal diseases (also other than ASF), it is prohibited to bring back meat, meat products and milk from non-EU countries (third countries). Travellers should always make sure that food waste is only discarded in closely sealed waste containers.
What do forwarding companies need to consider when coming from ASF affected countries?
Since the ASFV is highly resistant, the potential incursion via transport vehicles returning from ASF-affected areas poses a major threat. Transporters returning from Russia, Belarus or Ukraine to the territory of the European Union, in cases in which it cannot be proven that the vehicles were cleaned and disinfected in accordance with EU law, must, at the latest, carry out the cleaning and disinfection at the external borders of the EU. It is strictly necessary that vehicles that visited agricultural holdings in other Member States are also without fail cleaned and disinfected afterwards.
Is there a vaccination?
No, currently there is no vaccination against ASF.