Eight new cases of African swine fever

16 November 2023

Since the directorate of animal health’s previous report on October 2, eight new cases of African swine fever (ASF) have been reported.

Reggie Ncobo, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, told African Farming that four cases occurred in the Eastern Cape, two in Gauteng and one each in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. The origin of the new outbreak has not yet been determined. 

Since the start of the outbreak in South Africa 2019, 265 cases have been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (formerly the OIE). This means more than 265 farmers have been affected, since several cases involved more than one farmer – in informal settlements, for example, or on farms that are co-owned by a group of farmers. 

The directorate thinks it is unlikely that ASF occurrences will decrease unless small-scale and informal pig farmers change the way their animals pigs are kept and fed. 

Since this is a socioeconomic issue, it is outside the mandate of the department’s veterinary services staff to enforce rules on keeping and feeding pigs. “We however keep engaging the provincial veterinary authorities through awareness campaigns to educate pig keepers,” says Ngcobo.

The main disease control measure is good biosecurity. Unfortunately, informal pig farming is practised in many of the areas that are experiencing ASF cases. This farming system includes high-risk practices for disease control, such as pigs roaming freely, eating kitchen scraps and waste, and encountering other pigs of unknown health status. 

“The control of ASF outbreaks in these areas requires a multi-departmental approach, since there are many factors involved beyond disease control, including waste management and socioeconomic challenges in the communities involved,” says Ngcobo.

Dr Peter Evans, CEO of the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (Sappo), says he is only aware of the outbreak in eThekwini (Durban) in October. He says it seems the farmer bought weaner pigs from different suppliers to the grow them out for market. ASF broke out before the pigs were at market weight. 

Evans says there has been a general improvement in biosecurity and awareness of ASF as a potentially devastating disease. “A number of abattoirs are now insisting on farmers supplying them either to be compartmentalised or to have biosecurity assessments done by veterinarians. Abattoirs can ill afford to be quarantined due to cases of ASF on their premises.” 

He says the government alone cannot prevent the spread of ASF since most cases can be traced to illegal movements of pigs by traders, either directly to buyers or via auctions. 

“More robust policing of animal movements using permit systems, proper animal identification and movement logging would go a long way to driving responsible animal trade,” says Evans. “It is so easy to point fingers at state veterinary services while other state departments don’t contribute, for example, traffic and police officers.”

Evans also believes ASF has become endemic in domestic pigs outside the ASF control zone and is unlikely to be eradicated. 

“Sappo encourages its members to accept that this is the new reality, and therefore they need to remain vigilant and practise biosecurity protocols constantly. 

“ASF is transmitted directly from diseased animals and indirectly via infected meat or excretions from sick animals; there is no airborne transmission, which means theoretically it is relatively easy to prevent introduction to a pig farm.”

The directorate says once a case is suspected, the affected premises are placed under quarantine by the local state veterinarian. Pigs and pig products are not allowed to move onto or off the premises.

In terms of Animal Diseases Act regulations, all pigs infected and in contact must be isolated and destroyed under state vet supervision. All pigs that die of ASF or are killed and all contaminated material must be disposed of in a safe manner, as directed by the state veterinarian, to prevent further spread. 

Farmers are again urged to take heed of the following:

  • Buy pigs only directly from known healthy herds.
  • Prevent contact between pigs and other pigs or wildlife.
  • Discourage visitors from entering areas where pigs are kept. 
  • Anyone who has contact with pigs should wash their hands before and after handling the pigs, and use clean clothes, shoes and equipment. 
  • Swill feeding must be avoided, or swill must be cooked for at least 15 minutes to ensure inactivation of the ASF virus.

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