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African Swine Fever is not a threat to Human Health

It poses no threat to human health but is fatal for pigs

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By EDUARDO GONZALES

Q—Is it true that African swine fever does not affect humans? If so, why can’t we slaughter and cook pigs that are sick with the disease before they die from the disease? A friend of mine has not eaten pork since news of African swine fever broke out. Is it advisable to stop consuming pork until this disease has been contained?— elenitaQ@gmail.com

A—Yes, African swine fever (ASF) does not affect humans. ASF is a species specific disease that affects domestic and wild pigs. It is not a threat to human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans. ASF is a highly contagious and deadly disease of pigs that is caused by the African swine fever virus (ASFV), a large, double-stranded DNA virus of the Asfarviridae family. The virus has more than 30 strains, with varying levels of lethality. ASF is endemic in many countries around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Outbreaks have also occurred in Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia (Russia and the Caucasus region), China, Mongolia, and Vietnam. A few weeks ago, the disease has found its way into the Philippines.

ASF in the Philippines

Last Sept. 9, our Department of Agriculture announced that African swine fever caused the deaths of pig herds in seven areas in two provinces in Luzon in recent months. Theaffected areas are San Jose, Macabud, San Isidro, San Rafael, Mascap, and Antipolo in Rizal province, and Guiguinto in Bulacan province. The announcement came after results of blood samples sent to a British lab confirmed ASF.

More than 7,400 pigs have been culled on farms in villages in Rizal and Bulacan that were feared to have been hit by the viral infection. A multi-agency body has likewise been set up to ensure the highly contagious disease does not spread further.

How ASF is transmitted

The ASF virus can be transmitted to a healthy pig directly—by contact with a sick pig, its body fluids (nasal, oral, feces, blood) or tissues (meat)—and indirectly through contaminated feed, or contaminated clothing, vehicles, or other fomites. Some species of ticks, and possibly sucking flies or insects as well, also act as vector of the virus.

International travelers could unknowingly bring back ASF to their country from an ASF-affected country, especially if they visit farms. Agriculture Secretary Dar suspects that the virus may have been brought to our country by some overseas Filipinos who came from ASF-affected countries.

How does African swine fever affect pigs

The virus produces a haemorrhagic fever with high mortality rates in domestic pigs. The virus causes bleeding in the affected pigs’ internal organs and skin. All ages of pigs are affected. Signs of the illness include high fever, loss of appetite, and weakness. The skin may likewise be reddened, blotchy, or have blackened lesions, especially on the ears, tail, and lower legs. Other signs of the disease include diarrhea, abortion (in pregnant sows), nasal discharge, coughing, and difficulty of breathing. Death usually occurs within seven to 10 days, or even earlier. Animals that recover from the illness can be carriers of the virus for several months.

Treatment for ASF

There is no treatment or vaccine available for ASF. The only way to stop the disease from spreading is to depopulate all affected or exposed swine herds. This is why thousands of pigs in Bulacan were culled.

Why pork from ASF pigs should not be eaten

Theoretically, pigs infected with the ASF virus can be slaughtered and eaten, provided the pork is cooked well. Doing so, however, carries a great risk of spreading the disease to herds that are not affected because humans can become carriers of the virus once tainted pork is ingested or if people get close to the infected meat. Also, the virus can also survive even if the meat has been processed or canned. Pork that is bought from reliable sources, on the other hand is safe to eat provided it is cooked thoroughly. Your friend is therefore illadvised in refraining from consuming pork until the ASF outbreak is contained.

(Note: email inquiries on health matters to: medical_notes2@yahoo.com)

 

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