The Deadly African Virus That's Killing China’s Pigs
(Bloomberg) -- A deadly swine disease is spreading across eastern China, infecting hundreds of animals and threatening the world’s largest pig industry. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs on Sept. 3 confirmed a new outbreak of African swine fever at a farm in Wuxi city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, at least the eighth reported outbreak of the incurable disease.
1. What is African swine fever?
A highly contagious viral disease which, in its most virulent form, can be 100 percent lethal to domestic pigs and wild boars. There is no vaccine. It is characterized by high fever, loss of appetite, hemorrhages in the skin and internal organs, with death coming in 2-10 days on average. Diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and breathing difficulties are other symptoms.
2. Does it threaten human health?
No. The virus infects pigs, warthogs, European wild boar, American wild pigs, bush pigs, giant forest hogs and peccaries. Still, the disease can have a significant impact on food security through decreased and lost production, as well as on food safety through the movement of disease-infected carcasses that may not be adequately chilled or frozen, leading to bacterial contamination. Culling infected animals and imposing strict containment measures are the only tools available to limit further spread.
3. What’s the concern?
China has more than 400 million pigs, over half the world’s swine. Pork is the country’s principal source of dietary protein. Further spread could lead to significant culling of animals, hurting the livelihoods of pig producers, cutting pork production, pushing prices higher and driving consumers to other sources of protein. There may also be major repercussions on international trade as a result of import bans. In the Europe Union, where African swine fever emerged in 2014, outbreaks have spread across the region at a rate of about 200 kilometers a year, causing an estimated several billion euros in annual losses.
4. Where else has the disease shown up?
It’s endemic, or generally present, in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past several decades, the disease has emerged, and then been eliminated, in parts of Europe, the Caribbean and Brazil. More recently, it’s been found in at least seven EU countries and has caused outbreaks in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova this year. In West Africa, an outbreak in five districts of central Ghana was reported in May. In China, the Veterinary Bureau has reported infections in Zhengzhou, Henan; Lianyungang, Jiangsu as well as Shenyang, Liaoning. Chinese scientists studying the genetic evolution of the virus have said it closely resembles a pan-Russian strain.
5. How has China dealt with past disease outbreaks?
When the rotting carcasses of more than 16,000 pigs — some of which were reportedly diseased — were found in early 2013 in the tributaries of the main river running through Shanghai, threatening the region’s water supply, millions of small piggeries were closed in a nationwide program aimed at shifting pork production to larger, more efficient farms. It resulted in one of the largest culls in history — a reduction in hog numbers equivalent to the disappearance of the entire U.S., Canadian and Mexican pork industries in less than two years.
6. How does the virus spread?
It’s found in all body fluids and tissues of infected domestic pigs and spreads via direct contact with infected animals or ingestion of garbage containing unprocessed infected pig meat or pig meat products. It can survive in feces for several days and possibly longer in urine. Animals that recover from the illness can carry the virus for several months. Unprocessed meat must be heated to at least 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes to inactivate the virus. Blood-sucking flies, ticks and other insects possibly spread the virus between pigs, as can contaminated premises, vehicles, equipment or clothing. Brazilian researchers blamed the outbreak there on trade and tourism.
7. What’s China doing this time round?
The government said it faces an “arduous task” to control the spread of the disease. With widespread outbreaks in neighboring countries, prevention and tracing is complicated, according to the ministry. China has culled more than 38,000 hogs and also banned transport of live hogs outside affected provinces and closed trading markets. The country has also conducted more than one billion tests on hogs and screened 23 million farms and slaughtering houses. Separately, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will hold a three-day meeting in Bangkok from Sept. 5 to prepare a regional response to the outbreaks.
8. How are markets reacting?
Wholesale pork prices have climbed almost 5 percent since late July. On the Dalian Commodity Exchange, soybean meal fell almost 4 percent in August on concern the disease will cut demand for the animal feed ingredient. Shares in pork producers have suffered. WH Group Ltd., the world’s biggest pork company, is down almost 6 percent since the first outbreak while Muyuan Foodstuff Co., a pig breeder and animal feed producer, has slumped 13 percent. Even bond yields are rising on concern that higher pork prices will quicken inflation.
The Reference Shelf
With assistance from Editorial Board