Dr. Bret Marsh, Indiana State Veterinarian, spoke about the threat of a foreign animal disease (FAD) outbreak in the United States at the Four Star Veterinary Service Pork Industry Conference held in Fort Wayne, Indiana in mid-September.
“This is about preparation as it relates to foreign animal disease, and the challenges we could be faced with in this state and across the country along with identifying some of the challenges that are going on around the globe,” said Dr. Marsh.
In the map above, red indicates where African swine fever (ASF) exists around the globe; green is ASF-free.
“This is where it’s reported. My guess is it probably exists places that are not reported in red on this map. But as you can see, we have large portions of the globe that are green. We are fortunate here in North America to be in the green, but this virus has been on the move. And it’s presented some very unique challenges globally,” said Dr. Marsh.
ASF was first diagnosed in the continent of Africa in the 1930s. When it spread, a few countries like Spain and Portugal had success in eradicating the virus in the 1960s. However, virus spread has taken off in recent years, especially when China announced a diagnosis in August 2018. The Chinese outbreak and rapid spread across their provinces put North America on a higher level of awareness. The 2021 diagnosis of ASF in the Dominican Republic and Haiti suddenly put the virus much closer to the US border.
“This challenge exists not only for us here but anywhere on the continent and in South America,” he said. “This virus is a tough one. It’s a virus built to survive in the environment for long periods of time.”
ASF virus remains active in Dominican Republic and Haiti.
“Unfortunately, based on the last reports I’ve heard, the virus may be there for a while because of the economic challenges on the island and political unrest. In Haiti, for example, it’s one thing to get your diagnostic samples, but there’s no gas or fuel to deliver them to a diagnostic laboratory. The basic things we take for granted here are unique and insurmountable challenges there,” he said.
Classical swine fever remains a threat
Classical swine fever, historically called hog cholera, is a virus that the US has experienced. It was eradicated in the US in 1978. However, the island of Hispaniola not only has ASF, but it has had classical swine fever since 1997.
Classical swine fever currently is found in Central and South America, Europe and Asia and parts of Africa. North America, Australia and New Zealand are currently free of the disease. In the 1990’s large classical swine fever outbreaks occurred in The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Italy.
“This virus is alive and well and exists in large areas across the globe, and you just need to be aware that it exists not far from our shores as well,” he said.
Foreign animal disease preparedness
The question goes beyond how to prepare for a FAD on your farm. How does the US industry — and North America — prepare because the US swine industry is inextricably bound to the Canadian and Mexican pig industries? Dr. Marsh said this became increasingly apparent in his recent experience with avian influenza outbreaks.
“It’s surprising the number of products right here in Indiana that go into the international market,” he explained. “You find that out because in a disease situation, you put an area around that infected site called the control zone. To move products in and out of that area, you have to have a permit. For example, one of the turkey companies here in Indiana ships 50 semitruck loads a week of turkey products to Mexico. It stopped [when avian influenza was diagnosed in Indiana] — just like that— those trucks were stopped at the border. We had to go through a negotiation on a timetable to continue to move that product. We’re just talking in a 10-kilometer area, that’s 6.2 miles. That’s all it took, and Mexico said no.”
If there’s a FAD suspected in your area, a 3-kilometer circle will be drawn around the site of the infected animal and that becomes the infected zone. Then a buffer zone will be established another 2 kilometers out from the original infected zone. The area as a whole is called the control area. The control area will have restrictions on movement.
“If you’re outside of that zone, we hope that other states and other countries consider those as free areas and you can continue to move your product,” he said. “Otherwise, if you’re in that control area, there will be a permitting process for moving products in and out of the area,” he said. “If you’re on the infected side, we’re going to be trying to contain the virus until we can eradicate the disease. But it really depends on where you wind up. Basically, your preparedness plan should prepare for either of those eventualities: If your site is infected and you’re in the control zone, or if you’re outside that area.”
There are many activities going on in the US swine industry to help producers and processors prepare for a foreign animal disease. Key programs Dr. Marsh discussed and encouraged producers to participate in:
Premise ID. Having a state premise ID is critical for rapid identification of farms in the control zone. This is important to be able to contain the virus as quickly as possible.
Secure Pork Supply Plan
- Voluntary initiative that provides practical continuity of business plan in the event of a FAD disease outbreak
- Focuses on three areas
- Traceability and movement management
- Enhanced biosecurity
- FAD training and response
- Free, opt-in technology solution from the National Pork Board that helps producers of all sizes and types provide disease status updates and pig movement data to state animal health officials
- Designed to provide business continuity for US pig farmers by making disease traceback and pig movement data available to the USDA and state animal health officials on Day One of a foreign animal disease (FAD)
US SHIP (Swine Health Improvement Plan)
- Designed to identify disease-free areas with monitored- and certified-status herds across the country
- ASF-CSF Monitored certification aims to mitigate risks of disease introduction and provide a practical means for demonstrating evidence of freedom of disease (outside of FAD control areas) in support of ongoing interstate commerce and a pathway towards the resumption of international trade
- Applicable across the full spectrum of US pork industry participants from the small show pig farmer to the large commercial producers and slaughter facilities
- Modelled after the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) H5/H7 Avian Influenza Monitored certification held by greater than 99% of US commercial poultry operations
Certified swine sampler collector
- New program for the swine industry
- When an outbreak occurs, there aren’t enough veterinarians to test all the pigs, especially on an ongoing basis
- This program recognizes the work of an accredited veterinarian to train individuals at the farm level to collect the appropriate samples and submit those samples to the appropriate laboratory
- States maintain a repository on who’s been approved and certified
Important things to know if there’s an ASF outbreak
FAD PReP/Red Book for ASF. This is a manual for high-consequence disease response in the US. The USDA maintains the content, and states execute. If there’s an outbreak in your state or region, download a copy and reference it.
Stop movement. Unique to an ASF outbreak, USDA will issue a National Movement Standstill of at least 72 hours after a detection in domestic or feral pigs. This is intended to allow states to gather initial critical information for a unified approach to an ASF response while inhibiting further virus transmission. Consider how this will impact your operation when creating your FAD plan.
Feral swine. Any ASF diagnosis in the US will shut down US export markets. The infected animal could be a feral pig or domestic pig. Eradicating ASF in the feral pig population creates a unique challenge given the number of feral pigs found across the US.
US territories. In 2021, the US submitted a self declaration of the establishment of a protection zone for US territories in the Caribbean. This essentially sequesters Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from the 48 contiguous states in case of an ASF outbreak in either territory. Thus, if an ASF-positive pig is found in these US territories, it would allow US pork trade to continue with trading partners around the world.
ASF vaccine. An ASF vaccine hasn’t been approved yet, but Dr. Marsh said he is encouraged by some of the vaccine candidates that are being considered.
Dr. Marsh said a lot of work needs to take place now, while the US industry is negative, to ensure your operation is prepared and ready to respond if/when there’s an FAD outbreak. The US industry’s ability to quickly contain the virus during an outbreak will be crucial. Dr. Marsh encourages producers to consider their operations and work with their veterinary team to build an FAD preparedness plan, using all the tools at their disposal.