African swine fever could become endemic in Eastern Europe and spread rapidly to the west unless more vigorous controls are put in place, according to the UN chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech.
African swine fever (ASF) was confirmed in Georgia in early June and has since become entrenched in the country. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN now say that the disease has spread into northern Armenia and that further spread into the EU, Russia and the Ukraine is possible and dangerous.
“The spread of the African swine fever virus to the Caucasus region poses a very serious animal health risk and could lead to a dramatic situation,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech.
It is thought that the virus was introduced to Georgia via international ships carrying contaminated meat from sub-Saharan Africa. Since the first case in June the virus has spread rapidly and more than 68,000 pigs have died.
In theory, Georgia has surveillance zones in place, all animals that show signs of the disease or are at risk are culled and there are movement controls.
But in a country where over 500,000 pigs are kept in backyards and allowed to roam freely, containment of the disease has proved impossible.
The disease has now reached Armenia where outbreaks are on the rise.
“If both countries do not get a grip on the virus, there is a real risk that they might lose most of their pig population,” Domenech said.
The FAO is giving advice to the public and vets in both countries on how to implement an effective control strategy.
“The drastic reduction of veterinarians in Georgia, lack of transport at all levels, insufficient surveillance and monitoring programmes, poor biosecurity and uncontrolled swill feeding are issues that need to be urgently addressed,” said FAO veterinary expert Klaus Depner.
ASF is a highly contagious and is endemic in pigs in much of sub-Saharan Africa and Sardinia. While there is no threat to human health the disease can wipe out entire pig populations and as yet there are no vaccines available to control the infection.