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Biosecurity increases to keep ASF out of U.S. swine industry

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

African swine fever (ASF) is a massive fear in the U.S. swine industry. The viral disease is highly contagious and lethal to all sectors of the swine industry.  If ASF were to enter the United States, the disease would take a devastating toll on producers.  

Recently, the Dominican Republic reported an outbreak of ASF in the country. Being so close to the U.S., biosecurity has increased to protect the U.S. swine industry. 

Jordan Gebhardt, assistant professor in the Kansas State University (KSU) Department of Diagnostic Medicine and Pathobiology and Cassie Jones, KSU livestock feed scientist, joined the university’s Agriculture Today podcast to share more about this devastating virus. 

ASF is a viral disease which affects domestic swine as well as wild hogs. Any sort of contamination to either group of hogs could threaten the entire U.S. swine industry.  

Recent outbreak 

  The most recent scare of ASF infected the Dominican Republic – the first time the disease has entered the Western Hemisphere in years.  

Mentioning ASF was first introduced into the Dominican Republic in the ’70s, Jones shares, “We believe in this case, the disease came through passengers’ luggage, maybe passengers smuggling pork or sausage from an ASF-infected country.” 

  Jones believes feeding ASF-infected pork to hogs in the Dominican Republic started the outbreak of the disease in the small island country.  

“In early July, we actually started to see farmers reporting what they thought initially was pneumonia. They had some mortality, coughing, red patches on the skin and purple tips to the ears and back legs,” explains Jones. 

In hindsight, these were all symptoms of ASF. However, at the time, swine producers in the Dominican Republic began calling in U.S. veterinarians and collecting lab samples. 

“There were two pigs from two different provinces in the initial round that were confirmed with ASF,” says Jones. “Once they recognized this and the country realized they were positive for the disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) started to assist with some pretty intensive surveillance.” 

With the Dominican Republic so close to the United States, it will be harder than ever to keep ASF out of the U.S. So far, Jones shares, 11 of the 32 provinces of the Dominican Republic have ASF-infected farms.  

Astonished with the amount of cases in the Dominican Republic, Jones explains, “One of the most concerning parts of the whole story is how did it get there and how did it spread so quickly without being detected.” 

Signs and symptoms 

With the recent outbreak so close to home, both Jones and Gebhardt stress the importance of understanding the disease. While there have been no reported cases of ASF in the U.S., it is essential to keep an eye out for symptoms of this devastating virus.  

“Some of these very important clinical signs include high fever, reduced appetite and activity or weakness of pigs,” Gebhardt shares. “One thing producers need to keep an eye out for is red, blotchy skin or specific skin lesions.” 

Other symptoms of ASF Gebhardt shares include diarrhea, vomiting, coughing or difficulty breathing. If producers notice any of these symptoms within their herd, it is essential to contact a veterinarian.  

Gebhardt continues, “A number of other diseases can cause these symptoms. However, under a veterinarian’s guidance, a course of action as to what the best approach would be moving forward can be recommended.”  

Future implications 

ASF is nothing new to the swine industry. In fact, scientists have been researching the disease for decades.  

Gebhardt says, “It has been a very difficult nut to crack in the sense that we have made some progress, but due to unknown factors, it has been very challenging to develop a safe vaccine for ASF.” 

Currently, there is no commercially available vaccines for ASF, however Gebhardt says there are several possible vaccines in various stages of development. 

Until a vaccine is ready, Gebhardt shares, “The best approach to control this devastating disease today is to continue excluding the disease from our swine populations with biosecurity practices.” 

In the event a region does become infected with ASF, there has been a protocol set in place to hopefully mitigate its impact.  

“One of the primary control strategies is to depopulate the affected swine because there are not any good alternatives to control the spread of this virus,” explains Gebhardt.  

Additionally, if U.S. swine contract ASF, the industry will not be the only entity to feel the effects.  

“If a region or a county is infected with this virus, it impacts their ability to export pork products to other parts of the globe. It also has widespread implications on other agriculture commodity markets,” Gebhardt says.  

By following strict protocol, continuing research and understanding the disease, ASF will stay out of the U.S. However, the threat continues to move closer to home.  

Focusing on how the recent outbreak in the Dominican Republic and its potential affects on the U.S., Jones concludes, “Our current hope in the United States is since the Dominican Republic is close to home, we pick up some additional biosecurity and use this as a reminder so we can continue to prevent ASF from coming on to our soil.” 

Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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