- The devastating pig disease known as African swine fever (ASF) has now been found in northwest Russia, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has reported today.
The latest outbreak of ASF - which cannot be transmitted to humans - was found near the city of St. Petersburg on 20 October, jumping 2,000 kilometres from southern Russia. The spread has confirmed the worst fears of FAO experts who have been tracking the disease in Georgia and neighbouring nations for several years.
“Although we have known that the virus has been circulating in the Caucasus - in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan - for several years now, eventually spreading to southern Russia, it is its sudden appearance far away near the Baltic coast that is worrying,” said Juan Lubroth, the agency’s Chief Veterinary Officer.
The danger now is that ASF could spread to other regions, including the European Union, Eastern Europe, countries in the Black Sea basin and even Central Asia and China, which has the world’s largest pig population.
It can be transported over wider geographic areas through the movement of infected swine or contaminated pork products, FAO said.
Although Muslim populations do not consume pork, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia could act as a transit point for ASF due to the large numbers of wild boar in these areas.
“In light of this outbreak, FAO is advising countries to be vigilant and roll out their early detection and response plans,” Mr Lubroth said.
The virus is believed to have first entered into the Caucasus through the Black Sea port of Poti in Georgia, where garbage from a ship was taken to a local dump where pigs feed.
In sub-Saharan Africa, ASF is spread through warthogs and other wild pig species, and can also be transmitted by a particular type of tick.
The disease existed for decades in the Iberian Peninsula until it was eradicated in the late 1990s.
There is no vaccine against ASF currently, and the FAO issued a call for laboratories in the United States, Europe and Russia to reinvigorate efforts to develop an effective immunization.
The disease is eliminated by culling infected animals and strict movement control.
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