KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 — African swine fever (ASF), a disease which kills nearly all pigs infected with the virus in a manner reminiscent of Ebola in humans, has been spreading throughout Asia from China and Mongolia to Vietnam and Cambodia. It is now poised at the borders of Thailand.
Authorities in all uninfected countries are on high alert to prevent the spread of the highly contagious haemorrhagic viral disease which affects domesticated and wild pigs.
There is no vaccine for this virus. It is not known to spread to humans.
The spread of disease has led to millions of pigs being culled in massive efforts to prevent and contain its spread. Farmers and businesses have already been forced to losses amounting to billions of dollars.
Outbreak of this disease in Asia was first reported in a farm located in Shenyang, of the northeast province of Liaoning, China last August. The country is the world’s largest pork producer and consumer, and is home to half the world’s pig population. This is its first recorded incidence of ASF.
Emergency measures involving mass culling and blockades to prevent the transported of contaminated livestock and pork products failed to contain the infection. It has moved rapidly through sick animals, contaminated food, products and clothing.
Vietnam and Cambodia reported its first cases of infection in February and April respectively. Hong Kong’s first case resulted in thousands of pigs being culled and an immediate stop to all pork imports from mainland China.
The spread of this epidemic is sending shock waves throughout the global food chain. To put it into perspective, the estimated number of hogs culled from China’s herd is 134 million. This is the equivalent of the US’s entire annual output of pigs.
China’s pork supply may be reduced as much as 30 percent, creating a global protein shortage and surge in demand. As a result, Chinese food imports of pork and other meats and poultry are expected to increase prices throughout the animal-protein market.
Thailand’s Agriculture Ministry estimates that the spread of the virus within its borders may cost the Thai economy over USD 1 billion (RM 4.19 billion) if more than 50 percent of its pig population are infected.