African Swine Fever in Caucasus is potentially dramatic threat to wider region – UN

African Swine Fever in Caucasus is potentially dramatic threat to wider region – UN

Pigs roaming freely
African Swine Fever (ASF), a highly contagious and lethal virus infection of pigs that was confirmed for the first time in the Caucasus just four months ago, has spread from Georgia to Armenia with potentially very grave consequences for the wider region, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today.

African Swine Fever (ASF), a highly contagious and lethal virus infection of pigs that was confirmed for the first time in the Caucasus just four months ago, has spread from Georgia to Armenia with potentially very grave consequences for the wider region, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today.

“The spread of the African Swine Fever virus to the Caucasus region poses a very serious animal health risk and could lead to a dramatic situation,” FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said.

“Without a more vigorous surveillance and disease control strategy the virus could become endemic in the Caucasus and could eventually make its way to other regions. The EU (European Union), Russia, the Ukraine and other countries have a serious problem on their doorsteps that needs to be urgently addressed,” he added.

FAO is planning to provide emergency technical assistance to Georgia and Armenia in order to accelerate rapid surveillance and to support the governments in implementing a national control strategy against ASF, which poses no danger to humans. There are no vaccines or drugs available to prevent or control the infection, which can wipe out entire pig populations and has a serious impact on food security and livelihoods.

The virus – endemic in domestic and wild pigs in most of sub-Saharan Africa and Sardinia, Italy – was probably introduced into Georgia, where it was confirmed in early June, by improperly disposed waste from international ships carrying contaminated meat or meat products. It has rapidly spread throughout Georgia, with 52 of 65 districts affected and more outbreaks will likely occur, FAO warned.

More than 68,000 pigs have died or been culled. Proper surveillance followed by killing infected animals or animals at risk, movement control of animals and bio-security on farms is essential to get the disease under control, the agency said.

In Georgia, some 500,000 pigs are kept mainly in backyards and usually allowed to roam freely, contributing to the spread of the disease. Pig production is an important source of food and income for rural communities.

In Armenia, outbreaks are on the rise, reaching the outskirts of the capital, Yerevan. “If both countries do not get a grip on the virus, there is a real risk that they might lose most of their pig population to ASF,” Mr. Domenech warned.

FAO aims to strengthen veterinary services through training and the provision of equipment. Public awareness campaigns are required to involve the public in disease control.

“The drastic reduction of veterinarians in Georgia, lack of transport at all levels, insufficient surveillance and monitoring programmes, poor bio-security and uncontrolled swill feeding are issues that need to be urgently addressed,” FAO veterinary expert Klaus Depner said.

“Georgia is a completely unprotected country regarding the introduction of highly dangerous viruses. ASF offers a chance to improve disease surveillance and control capacity and build a line of defence against future animal diseases,” he added.