Questions and Answers on African Swine Fever (ASF)

What is African swine fever and does it occur in Germany?

African Swine Fever is a severe viral infection that only affects domestic pigs and wild boars. Since 2014, the animal disease has spread across the Eastern European countries in particular.

On 9 September 2020, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) informed about an official suspect case of African Swine Fever in Brandenburg, which was then confirmed on the following day.

Detailed information on the respective cases of ASF in wild boar is available in the Animal Disease Information System (TSIS). In July 2021, the first case of African Swine Fever (ASF) in domestic pigs was officially confirmed in Brandenburg.

ASF: how high is the infection risk?

The risk of infection is especially high when pigs have come into contact with the blood or cadaver of an infected animal.

Is African swine fever dangerous to humans?

The ASF virus only infects pigs (domestic pigs and wild boar). ASF is not transmissible to humans – neither through consumption of pigmeat nor direct contact with the animal. However, humans play a crucial role as far as the spreading of the disease is concerned, e.g. by improperly disposing of food containing the ASF virus or by wearing shoes or using vehicles which carry the ASF virus.

How did African swine fever come to Europe?

In 2007, the ASF virus spread from Africa to Georgia; probably through the Black Sea port in Poti. From there, it has since then spread across several Transcaucasian countries and reached Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. In the beginning of 2014, the animal disease reached the European Union and has since then spread further over large distances.

Why is it difficult to prevent that ASF spreads further across national borders?

Although it cannot be ruled out that infected wild boar may cross national borders, humans are mainly responsible for the virus spreading over large distances. The virus may spread through carelessly discarded contaminated pigmeat products, for example.

ASF: what can farmers do to protect their pig stocks from infection?

Cooperation of pig farmers is vital! The primary objective is to avoid that domestic pigs come into direct and indirect contact with wild boars! Farmers have to isolate their stocks in such way that neither the animals kept nor the feed and litter used, nor the purchased or the farm’s own manure, nor any of the implements used in the livestock building, such as shoes or boots, come into contact with wild boars.

Furthermore, farmers must comply with the general hygiene and biosecurity measures and the provisions laid down in the Ordinance on Hygiene Requirements for Pig Husbandry.

In the event that animals show the signs of disease which are typical for ASF, a veterinarian has to take appropriate samples and send them to the respective competent testing facility of the Länder in order to have them tested for a possible ASF infection. There is an early detection system in place, which provides for the examination of the first dead animal each week.

Additionally, farm veterinarians and farmers are required to send in samples (particularly blood samples) to obtain diagnostic clarification on e.g. general fever infections, abortions, or an increased number of dead animals in pig holdings.

Arable farmers should support the hunt for wild boars, for example by establishing shooting lanes across the fields.

Can animals be vaccinated against ASF?

No, currently there is no vaccination against ASF. Research in order to develop a vaccine has already been conducted for a long period of time.

What do transport companies need to consider if they come from countries where ASF occurs?

Since the ASF virus is highly resistant, the potential incursion via transport vehicles poses a threat. Transport companies returning to Germany from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine or the affected areas of the European Union have to prove that the vehicles were cleaned and disinfected in accordance with EU law. If they are unable to show proof thereof, they have to clean and disinfect the vehicles when they arrive at the border, at the latest.

How can hunters help to discover possibly ASF infected wild boar?

Wild boar are to be hunted intensively as a preventive measure. In addition, hunters should pay special attention to wild boar found dead and send samples to the competent veterinary testing facility. Ideally, these samples should consist of blood 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. The materials can be obtained from the competent veterinary authority.

What do hunters need to bear in mind in order to not spread ASF themselves?

As the blood of infected animals is highly infectious, the materials which came into contact with the blood should be handled with particular care. This includes for example boots, cloths, pack frames, knives and clothing.

ASF: how high is the infection risk?

The risk of infection is especially high when pigs have come into contact with the blood or cadaver of an infected animal.

What happens if ASF is detected in domestic pigs in Germany?

In case of an outbreak among domestic pig herds, all pigs of the affected herd have to be culled and safely disposed of. Large-scale restriction areas, restricted zones, including one restricted area (with a radius of at least three kilometres from the affected holding), and a surveillance zone (with a radius of at least ten kilometres from the affected holding) are being set up. Within the restriction areas, the transport of animals and their products from and to the holdings located there is prohibited (exemptions are possible). Both domestic pig herds and wild boars are being tested thoroughly in these zones.

In addition, comprehensive testing on the introduction of the pathogen is being carried out.

ASF: Is it still possible to export pigs, pigmeat, pigmeat products, and animal by-products to third countries (i.e. non-EU countries)?

A number of veterinary certificates for the export of pigmeat and pigmeat products to third countries require the confirmation that Germany is free from ASF. This can currently no longer be confirmed by Germany. It depends on the specific regulations in place in third countries at what point the import is prohibited. Provided that third countries actively inform the BMEL of such an import ban, we will forward this information promptly to associations and the competent authorities in the federal states. Therefore, the corresponding information is available from the respective industrial association or the veterinary office. If these bodies do not dispose of information for the third country in question, it is suggested that information is requested from the trading partner in the third country on whether the shipment of such goods is still possible.

After intensive negotiations, some third countries have come to accept the principle of regionalisation. Therefore, the export of pigmeat from ASF-free areas in Germany to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Vietnam, and Singapore, among others, is now possible again. Certain third countries, such as Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa, permit exceptions from the complete export ban for treated/processed pigmeat products or products derived from pigs (e.g. gelatine).

The BMEL does currently not dispose of further information on new trade restrictions applicable to the export of pigmeat and pigmeat products on the grounds of the detection of African swine fever in domestic pigs.

The BMEL vigorously advocates the continuation of regionalisation negotiations with other trading partners.

Released as FAQ list