Preparing for and preventing African swine fever

With the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory confirmation of African swine fever (ASF) in samples collected from pigs in the Dominican Republic, efforts are being redoubled to protect U.S. swine herds from this devastating disease hitting too close to home.

ASF has moved through Russia and Eastern Europe since 2007 and in August of 2018 was reported in China’s swine herd. It has been estimated that the number of sows China has lost to ASF is more than the entire U.S. sow herd.

The Dominican Republic case of ASF confirmed on July 28 is less than 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border, so USDA is using the case as an opportunity to prepare U.S. producers and key stakeholders for the possibility of ASF entering the U.S. Rosemary Sifford, with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), participated in a recent Pork Checkoff producer webinar on the topic. 

“A positive African swine fever case and would trigger federal, state and local emergency response plans, which include detailed surveillance action plans,” Sifford said. “We’ve also worked closely with Canada and Mexico to develop a North American response strategy.”

Of particular concern is the proximity of the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rice, a U.S. territory. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) does not distinguish between territories and states for positive ASF status. Because of this, the U.S. would be considered affected if Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories were to have a confirmed case. USDA is working to have documentation ready, if needed, to work with trading partners to regionalize the mainland and prove there are mitigation measures in place to protect the U.S. swine herd and continue trade.

“There is a high degree of travel between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, some through official routes and some through unofficial routes. We really want to work closely with them to step up our mitigation efforts there,” Sifford said. “One of the things that is working in our favor here is that because many of the Caribbean countries have had classical swine fever for quite some time, we have had mitigations in place to prevent classical swine fever from travelling to from the Dominican and other Caribbean countries to Puerto Rice and those mitigations can be effective for ASF as well. We are looking to build upon what we have in place there.”

As a protection measure, USDA has also deployed prevention efforts with Puerto Rico by speeding up a six-year plan to eradicate feral swine from the island. Puerto Rico also participates in the national African swine fever and classical swine fever surveillance plan.

“We definitely want to limit opportunities to limit any interface with feral swine,” Sifford said. 

Another challenge is fomites, or objects or materials likely to carry infections including ASF. This could include such as clothes, utensils, trash, and vehicles going from country-to-country or farm-to-farm. 

“Fomites can be a real challenge with this virus so it is really important to address truck washing and entry and exit and make sure that only people who enter an exit but also any vehicles — particularly those travelling from feed mills or collection points or other areas like that — are properly washed at least with an undercarriage wash before they enter a facility,” Sifford said. “We are also trying to make sure we have proper garbage disposal. That usually comes up to be an issue in many of these types of situations. Ships and airplanes have foreign garbage that is considered dangerous. We are looking back again to make sure all of those disposal mechanisms are appropriately in place. We are also looking at messaging for airline carriers to help them notify passengers of their requirements of any product they might be moving with them. In addition, we had started awhile back looking at a federal order to establish additional requirements for importing dogs from countries where African swine fever exists. Again ASF can travel with fomites and there is concern about the dogs and their bedding and other materials and the kinds of environments they might come from to the United States for resale. On Aug. 6 we were able to issue a federal order that requires that dogs for resale coming from countries where ASF exists would be bathed and their bedding properly disposed of and the crates properly cleaned before they moved any further within the United States.”

Those requirements became effective Aug. 16. Importers of dogs into the United States for resale from a region in which ASF exists or is reasonably believed to exist, must submit written documentation verifying completion of the following requirements:

• The dog(s) and their shipping crate/container must be free of dirt, wood shavings, hay, straw, or any other organic/natural bedding material.

• All bedding that accompanies the dog(s) during transit must be properly disposed of at the U.S. post-entry point(s) of concentration.

• Each dog must have an ISO-compliant microchip implanted, and the individual microchip number must be verified immediately before each animal is bathed.

• Each dog must be bathed at the U.S. post-entry point(s) of concentration within two calendar days of arrival in the United States. Bathing must be documented in the Veterinary Services Dog Import Record. 

“Each year, several thousand dogs enter the country for resale or adoption. If even one of these animals carried ASF into the country, it could put the U.S. swine herd and other livestock in jeopardy and have disastrous consequences for our nation’s agriculture sector,” said Liz Wagstrom, National Pork Producers Chief Veterinarian. “We thank USDA for implementing these additional safety measures to prevent the spread of ASF to the United States.” 

For the continental United States, APHIS has numerous interlocking safeguards in place. Pork and pork products from the Dominican Republic are currently prohibited entry as a result of existing classical swine fever restrictions. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is increasing inspections of flights from the Dominican Republic to ensure travelers do not bring prohibited products to the United States. CBP will also be ensuring that garbage from these airplanes are properly disposed of to prevent the transmission of ASF.  

USDA is committed to assisting the Dominican Republic in dealing with ASF, is offering continued testing support, and will consult with them on additional steps or actions to support response and mitigation measures. USDA is offering similar help to Haiti, which borders the Dominican Republic and is at high risk for ASF detections.  

“There are so many different threats when it comes to agriculture and biosecurity and that realm. We want to make sure the importance of this threat is very visible publicly and outward,” said John Sagle with CBP in the webinar. “You can help get that communication out. As you travel, let people know about the risks of proper declaration, of being on a farm, of not bringing items back. Be a source of information. We have strong and well established connectivity with the Pork Checkoff, the Pork Producers Council and with the Pork Board. If you hear about things that concern you, those are the channels directly to us that we can see right away and address it at a national scope immediately. It is more eyes and ears from an industry level — you can be a part of the prevention measures.” 

The USDA continues to work diligently with partners including CBP and the U.S. swine industry to prevent ASF from entering the United States. ASF is not a threat to human health, cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans and it is not a food safety issue. 

More information about USDA’s efforts may be found at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/swine-disease-information/african-swine-fever/seminar.

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