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African swine fever (ASF): The BMEL asks for vigilance and prevention

Since 2014 ASF has appeared in many different EU countries. This animal disease, which is highly prevalent in pigs and wild boar, has long been concentrated in countries (south) east of the EU and spreads from there.

ASF is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan African countries. Supposedly ASF was introduced to Georgia from Africa. In June 2007, the first ASF outbreaks were reported in Georgia. The alleged cause is the illegal disposal of food waste containing the ASF pathogen. After that, ASF spread through Georgia, and from there it continued its path to the west.

The introduction of the ASF virus into Sardinia in 1978 has led to recurrent outbreaks in domestic and wild boar in Sardinia to this day. It has, however, been possible to contain disease cases locally.

No risk to human health

African swine fever 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.

Food: a source of infection

The virus is transmitted directly via animal contacts or indirectly, for example via meat or sausage from infected animals. Under unfavourable conditions, the inadvertent disposal of leftovers of virus-containing food for consumption during travel may be sufficient to introduce the disease. Such food leftovers should hence be avoided or be disposed of in places that are inaccessible to feral pigs. Transmission is possible via direct contact between infected and uninfected animals, in particular through blood contact. In addition, the virus can be indirectly transmitted via contaminated objects (tools, vehicles, footwear/clothing etc.), food or via contaminated feed.

A ban on feeding domestic and feral pigs with kitchen and catering waste has been in place for decades. Since the virus remains contagious for an exceptionally long time, it can also be spread further by objects such as tools, footwear, clothing and transport vehicles. For this reason, travellers - including people on hunting trips - and haulage contractors should exercise particular caution and responsibility and observe sanitary measures.

Most recent developments of the ASF situation

Following a first detection of ASF in the Czech Republic in June 2017, an ASF outbreak in feral pigs in the Czech Republic could be contained by taking strong measures, so that in October 2018 the Czech Republic declared the outbreak of ASF eradicated in accordance with the requirements of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Since February 2019, the Czech Republic has also been considered free of ASF in accordance with EU rules.

In the Belgian province of Luxembourg - in the tri-border area France-Luxembourg-Belgium, about 60 kilometres from the German border - ASF was detected on 13 September 2018 in wild boar found dead. In spring 2019, more cases of ASF were reported in the wild boar population of Belgium at the border with France and north of the area where the first cases occurred. Belgium subsequently extended the existing restriction zones and erected further fences. The number of detected ASF-positive carcasses has decreased as a result.

Since 14 November 2019, cases of ASF in wild boar have also been detected in western Poland (voivodeships Lebuski, Dolnośląskie and Wielkopolskie). The first outbreaks occurred around 80 kilometres away from the German-Polish border. Further cases have occurred since then (most recently in the end of December 2019) and the detection sites of wild boar found dead closest to the German-Polish border are now approximately 20 to 30 kilometres away (as of 3 January 2020).

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) has been in continuous contact with both the German federal states and the competent Polish authorities for a long time. German and Polish official veterinarians met on 13 December 2019 and agreed, among other things, on the establishment of risk zones of at least 8 to 15 kilometres on both sides of the border within which hunting activities should be carried out in such a way that they do not lead to an intensification of wild boar movements.

To date, ASF hasn’t occurred in Germany.

However, there is always a risk that the disease will spread to other EU countries due to the high infection pressure. 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.

Since August 2018 there have been reports about a massive presence of ASF in China. Moldova, Russia and Ukraine also continue to report cases. ASF was also detected in other Asian countries.

ASF: Precaution takes centre stage

The BMEL is in close contact with the Länder and the relevant associations; existing information and monitoring measures have been intensified and are regularly adapted to the situation. The BMEL has also once again been proactive in raising awareness among the general public, hunters and farmers, in particular pig farmers, Eastern European workers and travellers, including through intensified press work. In addition, the BMEL is committed to a lively exchange with the competent authorities of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg with regard to ASF.
A functioning early detection of possible introductions into Germany places high demands on pig farmers, veterinarians and hunters in order to give the animal disease as little time as possible for further spread in case of an outbreak.

Since 2014, the risk of transmitting ASF via virus-containing foodstuffs has been pointed out to travellers and truck drivers entering Germany by means of posters in several languages put up in motorway rest areas and car parks, with a focus being placed on motorways of the East-West route. In addition, the veterinary authorities of the Länder were requested to hand out information leaflets to harvest workers from Eastern Europe.

These measures were extended in 2017: Posters have now also been put up along rural roads in the area close to the borders with Poland and the Czech Republic. Employees of the Federal Office for Goods Transport also handed out flyers to truck drivers.

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