What is African Swine Fever?
African Swine Fever (ASF) caused by the African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) is a highly contagious and fatal disease of feral and domestic swine that has recently caused worldwide economic and food security concerns. It was first described in Kenya in the 1920’s. There is no effective treatment or cure, and so the protocol used to stop the spread of the virus is to cull the pigs within a 2 mile radius of any outbreak. In 2018-20219, an estimated 300 million to 350 million pigs in China were either killed or culled because of ASF, which amounted to roughly 25% of all hogs existing on earth. It caused an estimated US $89.5 – 196.2 billion in total economic loss to that country alone. Currently it has been spreading rapidly throughout Asia, Oceania, and Europe since 2016 and without resolve.
Could ASFV Come to the United States?
Craig Mosman notes that in July 2021 there were reported outbreaks of ASF in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. This threatens the mainland US and the domestic pork industry. Largely because there is no treatment or vaccine, the US remains defenseless to the virus. An Iowa State University study estimated that the loss to the US economy if ASFV entered the US would be greater than $50 billion.
The virus is hardy, and so there are many potential ways the virus could come to the US. Of course, there is the potential for some enemy to the US intentionally bringing the virus across our borders. Particularly with the virus appearing in this hemisphere, there is also an increased potential for unintentional spread of the virus. It could be spread through transporting of animals, through ticks or mosquitoes, or through wild hogs. It survives cooking, and live virus could be spread through importing packaged food. It survives several years after being frozen. It survives in soil and water, and studies have noted the spread of the virus in trucks used to transport pigs, and in clothes, equipment, or footwear that has come in contact with the virus. It survives for up to 3 months in feed.
In September 2021, the USDA submitted a dossier to the World Health Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to finalize a new protection zone for ASF in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the first foreign animal disease zone established in the US. Currently in the US and other countries, defense concentrates on preventative biosecurity measures and depopulation and disinfection once the disease manifests. Craig Mosman of Idaho recognizes that, due to the considerable variability in the ASFV genome and deduced proteins, there is not yet an effective, commercially available vaccine treatment for ASFV despite over 40 years of research.
ASFV Not Believed to Be a Threat to Infect Humans.
Although there is grave concern on the potential devastating impact to the US economy and global food security, it appears that ASFV is not a zoonotic disease. Viruses have surface proteins which bind to host cells. Since the identification of ASFV more than 100 years ago, Craig Mosman of Idaho acknowledges that there has not been a recorded case where this complex virus mutated and infected humans.
What Can be Done? The Answer is in a Novel Approach: Given the fact that ASFV is in this hemisphere, the hardiness of the virus, and the many methods…intentional and unintentional…that ASFV could travel to the US, it is likely that the US will experience an outbreak of ASFV in the next 12-18 months. The only question is, what can be done to stop its spread? Craig Mosman of Idaho has argued that vaccines are not the answer. Although a lot of effort has been directed to developing a vaccine, it has not been successful. “This virus is incredibly complex,” Mosman wrote. “It is a large double stranded DNA molecule with almost 200 kilobase pairs.”
The other area where money is being spent to stop the virus is in border security. Craig Mosman argues that ultimately will prove ineffective. In the past few years this virus has already traveled quickly from Europe, across Russia, into China, throughout Southeast Asia, to India, and jumped the Atlantic to arrive in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Placing increased security at US borders is not going to stop it. We need to have a new strategy of therapeutics and prophylactics that will stop the replication and spread of this deadly virus. Seek Labs is about to enter animal trials on a novel treatment that has proven effective in in vitro studies conducted over the past 18 months.