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Did soldiers bring African swine fever to Belgium?

8th Oct 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The Belgian news media is asking whether soldiers could have brought the African swine fever (ASF) virus to Belgium. 

wild boar 5The corpses of three wild boar were found in the grounds of an army camp near to the town of Arlon in Luxembourg Province in September. Two of the boars were found to be infected with ASF.

The story, which was initially reported on public broadcaster RTBF, has since been confirmed by Belgian Defence Ministry sources, according to Flanders News

One of the dead animals was found on September 21 and was in 'an advanced state of discomposure'. According to RTBF, this would indicate that boar had been dead for between two and four weeks, making it one of the first wild boar to have become infected with ASF in the recent outbreak in the region. 

This has led to speculation the virus could have been brought to Belgium by soldiers that had returned here from military exercises in the Baltic States. Initially, it was thought that lorry drivers or workers from Eastern Europe had brought the virus to Belgium.  

However, the possibility that it could have been brought here by soldiers is now being discussed. Recently, Polish and Czech soldiers have been at the Lagland Camp. It is also possible that the virus was brought here by Belgian soldiers that had taken part in military exercises in the Baltic States, Flanders news reports. 

The Defence Department has reassured VRT News that it has taken the measures necessary to contain the virus.

The virus isolated in Belgium is thought to be the same as the one currently circulating in eastern Europe. The most likely route of infection is said to be discarded infected meat products brought in from ASF-infected areas. Investigations are continuing.

Latest situation

By the end of last week, 29 cases had been reporteded in wild boar. Almost all infected animals were found in the vicinity of the previous cases in the Infected Zone.

The Belgian authorities have stressed that ‘very few’ domestic pigs are kept in this region and said the risk of domestic pigs becoming infected with ASF remains ‘limited’. However, the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has warned that given the large numbers of wild boar in this forested area, crossing the EU border, eradication will be ‘a challenge’.

The Belgian authorities have culled around 4,150 domestic pigs on a small number of commercial premises and numerous smallholdings as a precautionary measure to try and keep the virus under control. 

Other measures inside the zone include movement restrictions, enhanced biosecurity and surveillance on farms, including no outdoor access or double fencing, testing of wild boar found dead and banning feeding and hunting of wild boar and human movement in the forest.

Measures in place at the national level include a ban on pig gatherings, increased biosecurity and surveillance and ensuring domestic pigs avoid contact with wild boar.