Why Greece's ASF outbreak comes as no surprise
6th Feb 2020 / By Alistair Driver
Greece was expecting an African swine fever (ASF) outbreak and had stepped up surveillance, ahead of confirmation of the virus in the country for the first time this week.
In its latest update on ASF in Europe (published before ASF was confirmed in Greece), the Animal and Health Plant Agency (APHA) noted that there have been 138 cases of ASF in wild boar in Bulgaria since November 2019 to date, with 49 cases in domestic pigs since July.
"Some are close to the borders of currently ASF-free North Macedonia and Greece, both of which are already on high alert; having been identified as two of the nine Balkan countries to have a very high chance (66-100%) of disease spread inside their borders, within a year of introduction, in a recent EFSA risk assessment (EFSA, 2019)," the APHA update states.
It was reported at a recent European Commission meeting that Greece has increased both passive surveillance (sampling all wild boar found dead and all domestic pigs found dead or sick), and active surveillance (sampling hunted/shot animals, all backyard pigs and a specific number from commercial pig premises), close to the border with Bulgaria for domestic pigs, and throughout the country for wild boar.
Additional laboratory resource for analysing ASF samples is being prepared, along with additional reagents and consumables.
Domestic cases falling, but wild boar infection rising
Across Europe, overall cases in domestic pigs remain relatively low, but cases in wild boar are rising.
Since the last APHA report in December, outbreaks in domestic pigs have only been observed in three countries, with the vast majority of these in Romania (153 in December and January) and cases also in Bulgaria (9) and Ukraine (1), with a few also in west Russia.
The 163 cases in total in December and January compared with more than 100 in each of October and November and more than 600 per month in July and August.
But wild boar cases are rising. Overall, there were 1,135 confirmed cases across 13 European countries in January, led by Poland (413), Hungary (365), Romania (142) and Bulgaria (71). Cases are rising in most countries where infection is present and the January figure compared with 724 cases in December. The number has been steadily rising since the 257 confirmed cases in wild boar in June 2019.
The majority of the recent domestic cases involved backyard small holdings, although both Bulgaria and Romania have reported outbreaks on commercial holdings – one in Romania (24,614 pigs), and two in Bulgaria on large industrial farms close to the city of Varna, affecting over 60,000 pigs in total.
Hungary, to date, not reported any outbreaks in domestic pigs, despite the large number of infected wild boar.
Poland also continues to report high numbers of cases of ASF in wild boar, with many in the west of Poland, close to the German border (since the APHA report was published, ASF has been found within 12km of the German border).
The German authorities have begun building fences along the Polish border in the state of Brandenburg, and it is intended that an electric fence will be erected in Saxony along a
high risk sector of the border with Poland.
This is in addition to the fences constructed within Poland to prevent spread between provinces. Some states in Germany have relaxed laws around hunting in an effort to reduce wild boar numbers.
At the beginning of January, Serbia reported cases of ASF in wild boar, along the eastern
borders with Bulgaria and Romania, the first reported case in the country since August 2019, and the first report in wild boar in Serbia.
Moldova reported an outbreak in a small backyard farm (34 pigs) at the end of January, the first time the disease has been reported in domestic pigs in the country since September 2019. ASF continues to circulate in wild boar in Moldova, with a large increase in cases in January 2020 comparative to all months of 2019.
One more 'bones-only' wild boar carcass, which tested positive for ASFV DNA was reported in Belgium on January 7, following similar occurrences in October, November and December. The remains of this latest wild boar carcass were found in the Infected Zone, and estimated to have been there for at least 3 months.
UK risk assessment
The risk remains at medium for the entry of contaminated or infected products into UK at present. APHA outlined the main risks and stressed the actions that need to be taken by all parties, including producers, to keep ASF out.
APHA said: "Border checks on passengers are paramount, as are publicity campaigns aimed at reaching the travelling public and reminding them that bringing back products of animal origin from outside the EU or from a region in the EU under disease restrictions is not allowed.
"Commercially produced products which can be safely traded in the EU will be labelled as such. Home produced products, for which the origins of the pork used are unclear, are a particular concern."
"Travellers from an affected area in the EU or anywhere in Asia and Africa must not bring back products of pig origin – including ham, sausages or pâté – or any equipment or other goods which could potentially be contaminated with ASF virus, to the UK. Travellers from Asia and other third country areas who bring meat or dairy products can also face prosecution and a large fine.
"Disease can be spread by pig keepers and members of the public feeding catering waste, kitchen scraps or pork products to their livestock. It is illegal to do so.
"The risk of exposure to the pig population in the UK is highly dependent on the level of biosecurity on individual pig premises but is still considered to be low. We will continue to monitor the situation."
See our ASF section for regular updates.