Protect the Pig program helps bring information, awareness for African swine fever

An expert panel helped explain biosecurity best practices and control measures to help safeguard the swine herd during a live event June 29 hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

Included on the panel were Jack Shere, APHIS associate administrator, Pete Thome, hog producer, Thome Family Farms, Jamee L. Eggers, producer education director, Iowa Pork Producers Association, and Dr. Anna Forseth, director of animal health, National Pork Producers Council.

Shere said the United States swine herd is one of the world’s largest in terms of pork production and second largest when it comes to exporting pork globally. And ASF is something to not take lightly for all swine owners.

“If this disease arrived here, it’s estimated it would cost the U.S. $50 billion over the course of 10 years to eradicate,” he said. “The U.S. moves about a million pigs a day on the road to 17 different states.”

If the disease were to be introduced, it would not only affect the swine industry, but all the ancillary and associated businesses.

“And some estimates say that as much as $80 billion could be affected,” he said.

USDA hopes its more than $500 million investment will help prevent the spread of the disease and increase surveillance, testing and response in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, USDA is working with other nations to mitigate the virus—Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti—and not breach U.S. borders.

“We’re working with Customs and Border Protection,” Shere said. “We’re working to eliminate feral hogs within the U.S. and Puerto Rico. We’re creating active and passive surveillance plans in the United States and Puerto Rico. We’re looking at slaughter surveillance.”

Focus is also on development, testing and eradication programs, as well as different products that could be used in the U.S. through testing programs that are being worked on in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

“We know that our commercial pork producers and veterinarians and pig owners are among the nation’s first line of defense, and that is very important against African swine fever,” he said.

Shere said APHIS launched the Protect our Pigs initiative to provide the most up to date information on ASF as well as free resources. On there are print materials and other resources available.

“Over the next several months the site will continue to be updated with new materials and resources to include such things as downloadable fact sheets and posters that you can hang at your facilities,” he said.

He’s expecting instructional videos for pork producers and veterinarians, sharable social media graphics about spotting signs of ASF and symptoms, how to file a report and a new interactive biosecurity guide. The guide will walk people through key prevention steps and biosecurity plans.

“That can be used to help train outside personnel or on site personnel and staff,” Shere said. “Both of these measures are very succinct and friendly for viewing on such things as phones and small devices.”

There’s also a place to sign up to receive emails about ASF and if it’s ever detected in the U.S., APHIS will be ready to respond immediately with actionable information and resources for pig owners and the public.

African swine fever specifics

Eggers reminded listeners ASF is a disease that afflicts pigs but humans can’t get it. The pork is safe to eat. This disease is spread to pigs three different ways—through direct contact, indirect contact and via insects, specifically soft ticks.

“Spread of African swine fever by direct contact means healthy pigs have nose to nose or other physical contact with infected domestic or wild swine,” she said. “This means pigs could pick up the disease when at a swine show, or are interacting with any wild pigs that are outside their pens.”

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Sick pigs will spread the virus to healthy pigs through their infected saliva, urine or feces by direct contact. Indirect transmission happens when healthy pigs eat virus contaminated feed or pork products.

“That’s why we see USDA working hard to keep pork products from coming across the border, especially from countries that have African swine fever,” Eggers said. “But this can also happen if a friend or neighbor processes pork from an infected pig and then shares the pork with you and then any leftover pork is fed to the pigs.”

Humans can spread ASF to pigs if biosecurity isn’t practiced. Contaminated clothing or shoes, vehicles or equipment, and contaminated food waste can transport the virus, too, when it comes in contact with pigs. Some insects also spread ASF

“This type of insect transmission can occur when a soft tick acts as a vector, meaning the tick feeds on an infected pig then spreads the virus to a healthy pig by feeding on it,” she said. “Soft ticks are found in the southern United States.”

Signs of disease

Forseth said before getting into specific signs and symptoms of ASF, it’s important to understand the clinical presentation of the disease can vary and be influenced by a variety of factors.

“The strain of the virus can influence the virulence and some strains can cause much more severe acute disease than other strains,” she said. “We have seen this to be true in recent outbreaks in both Asia and Hispaniola. And as we learn more about African swine fever, we understand that it may not necessarily present as cases of very high mortality very quickly.”

Clinical signs producers should be watching for include: high fever, decreased appetite, weakness, lethargy, red or blotchy skin lesions, GI symptoms, such as diarrhea or vomiting, respiratory issues, including coughing or difficulty breathing. The mortality rate varies, but can be as high as 100% of infected animals. Notable necropsy findings may include an enlarged spleen, or varying degrees of hemorrhage in the lymph nodes or the kidneys.

“African swine fever can mimic domestic diseases including PRRS and salmonella,” she said. “So it’s important that situations where pigs have signs consistent to ASF even though they’re also consistent to domestic diseases are reported to a veterinarian, and then that veterinarian will work with state and federal animal health officials to determine the need for further evaluation and possibly diagnostic testing.”

Quick thinking and communication by producers is what’s required for quick detection of ASF.

“And it’s going to be critical that we detect it quickly to prevent a large outbreak,” she said.

When it comes to diagnostic testing and ASF, there is background surveillance testing underway for both ASF and classical swine fever to help support the goal of early detection, along with increasing laboratory testing capacity, and an increase in the number of approved sample types for ASF detection.

“Producers, if you see something, say something,” she said. “Don’t just assume it’s not a foreign disease. Talk with animal health officials, your veterinarian and work with them to determine whether or not a diagnostic plan is needed.”

Shere agreed and said early detection is critical to stop the spread of ASF and to contain it. If there’s a suspected case of ASF please report signs immediately.

“You can do that by contacting your state or federal veterinarian’s office or by calling USDA Hotline at 1-866-536-7593,” he said.

When there is an infection in the area, Forseth said state animal health officials and USDA will work to notify producers while waiting for confirmation of a diagnosis.

“They will already be identifying producers within the surrounding area, which we will call the control area,” she said.

If a producer happens to be in the control area, there will be a state animal health official providing those affected with direction. Most likely there will be a specific testing surveillance permitting requirements of those who are in close proximity to the infected site.

“Animal health officials will make it a priority to notify these individuals quickly and provide this information to them,” she said. “In general producers should be aware and prepare for a 72-hour standstill of swine movements which is most likely going to happen after the initial diagnosis of ASF. And that’s regardless of where the first case is.”

In that 72-hour standstill a farm operator will likely be asked to share information with state and federal officials regarding animal movements, as well as movement of feed, equipment, personnel or visitors.

“So if you’re not keeping track of this information, you should start,” Forseth said. “It’ll be pretty important for their efforts to try to trace where the disease may have come from and where it has gone.”

Forseth suggests producers get to know their state animal health official. Reach out to them or attend conferences or meetings where they’re presenting and ask questions.

“You might also find out if they have a notification system for your state in place, such as a text alert system that may allow you to be notified immediately of a situation like a foreign animal disease detection,” she said.

Second, register for a premises ID number. And third talk with a state animal health official or your state’s pork association about opportunities such as the secure pork supply program, the Swine Health Improvement Plan program and the Certified Swine Sample Collector Program which focus on business continuity, interstate commerce and trade and disease surveillance, which are all very critical components to a foreign disease response, according to Forseth.


Thome said on his farm, operators have implemented biosecurity best practices, and he believes this is one of the most important topics the swine industry can educate them on.

“I think education and awareness are two of the important messages that we should try and make sure that we’re getting across to the general public but also us as producers,” he said. “Biosecurity implementations within our farm—pretty standard across the industry on a daily basis.”

At Thome’s facility employees shower in and shower out. Meaning each barn has a designated set of clothing and boots that stay in the barn to make sure that no fecal material or other ways of transmitting disease between pigs is carried or moved around within the operation or the industry.

“We do a weekly sanitation of our vehicles that we drive on a daily basis to make sure that we sanitize—clean floor mats, wash the outside, the tires,” Thome said. “Because our neighbor might raise pigs for somebody else and making sure you know whether we did cross paths or not—we’re not dragging things amongst the countryside.”

Even their feed mill truck who delivers feed to the farm are washed on a daily basis as they come to Thome’s farm. The feed mills are also responsible for making sure their ingredients, suppliers and vendors follow the same sorts of strict biosecurity measures and testing of the feed ingredients before they’re taken out to farms.

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” he said. “And we as producers care about our animals and the welfare that we provide them day in and day out.”

It’s a challenge facing all swine producers and keeps many like Thome up at night.

“It could be up to $50 if not $80 billion impact to our industry within our country, but swine industry in general,” Thome said. “It could be an $80 billion production and industry impact per year if ASF was to get here. So again, education, biosecurity, educating your employees, working with your veterinarian are all very crucial things on a daily basis.”

Thome said they stress to their employees safety is No. 1 and it never takes a day off.

“Neither does biosecurity, so making sure that you’re implementing it is crucial. Something to take very seriously,” he said.

Shere agreed. He’s heard often how biosecurity is expensive, but he believes it pays off in the end.

“We know that disease is more expensive,” he said.

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Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].