KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — The deadly African swine fever virus, which ravaged China’s US$128 billion pork industry and caused the slaughter of millions of pigs across Asia, is now burning its way through other countries in the region.
The haemorrhagic disease that jumped from Africa to Asia is highly virulent and hardy, able to withstand temperature extremes and spreads in multiple ways. There is neither a vaccine to prevent infection, nor an effective treatment to deal with it.
The virus does not harm humans even if they consume tainted pork.
A single drop of blood from an infected pig contains up to 50 million viral particles. Just one in contaminated drinking water is enough to infect another pig.
Incubation time is between five to fifteen days before falling sick. Throughout that period, the virus can be spread through meat, blood and waste of infected pigs which don’t have fever or even look sickly.
Contaminated unprocessed meat require heating to 70 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes to be rendered safe. Infected blood, urine, saliva or feces, carried in the dirt stuck on tyre trucks and footwear of workers, result in the disease rapidly traveling hundreds of miles.
It is able to survive for a month in water, for several months in meat and blood at room temperature and even for years under the right conditions. This is one tough virus.
Even the culling of infected swine and disposal of their carcasses represent significant risk both to the environment and health.
Land borders are rife with formal and informal traffic and the opportunities of viral infection through trading networks across the region are many as pigs are often transported across large distances.
The rapid spread of the disease across Vietnam and Cambodia bodes the potential outbreak in neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.
While rigorous and stringent checks of meat being imported or exported across borders may help hold back the infection, the presence of wild boar and ticks in infected countries mean that spread of the virus could be inevitable.