African swine fever: Portugal at risk

African swine fever: Portugal at risk

African swine fever is cutting a devastating swathe through eastern Europe, and is now little more than 1500 kms from Portugal’s borders.

Who says this is Fernando Bernardo, director general of the DGAV (food and veterinary board) who believes there is a risk the ‘highly infectious’ virus, for which there is no cure nor vaccine, could get here and cause economic mayhem.

The Achilles Heel of this issue centres on rapidly expanding populations of wild boar.

As reports explain, it is one thing to contain outbreaks in pig farms; quite another to control them in boar populations by dint of the fact that these animals roam freely and try and keep away from humans, at least during daylight hours.

Says Bernardo, Portugal would “suffer enormous damages” if the disease reaches national territory. It could threaten the very survival of the pork meat sector – which has only recently forged lucrative deals with countries like China.

The only way to control this plague is to kill all pigs in contact with a diseased pig.

The meat too has to be destroyed, as the virus lives within it.

It’s a scourge that doesn’t affect humans, but it can be further propagated by ticks.

In Bulgaria, the virus has just hit the 19th pig farm in the space of a month. It’s an industrial farm, explain reports, with over 40,000 pigs that will now have to be destroyed.

Explains Bernardo, if the disease reaches Portugal it would almost certainly be spread by the 150,000-odd wild boar expanding “uncontrollably” through rural areas.

Another moot point is how the meat of wild boar is ‘controlled’ through veterinary inspections. In short, much of it isn’t. Hunters bag their boar, take it home and consume the meat with almost zero intervention by authorities.

As the European Food Safety Authority explains, the virus can live in the clothes of hunters and in equipment they use.

In a country where more than 100 municipalities do not boast a council paid vet (even though this is a legal stipulation), the chances of African Swine Fever ‘slipping through the net’ are there for all to appreciate. It could simply be a matter of time.

A little like a form of Ebola virus, the fever causes a general ‘dullness’ within 4-5 days of infection, breathing difficulties, vomiting, coughing, nasal and ocular discharge, abortion in pregnant sows, cyanosis of extremities and death within 7 days. Chronically, pigs are emaciated and often lame with skin ulcerations.

If the virus does reach Portugal it will not be for the first time.

The first spread of the disease outside sub-Saharan Africa was to Portugal in 1957 as a result of waste from airline flights being fed to pigs near Lisbon airport.

Since 1957, there have been several occurrences in mainland Europe, affecting Portugal again, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

This latest scourge was first identified in Georgia in 2007. It has been advancing westwards ever since.

[email protected]