Bratislava, Slovakia – According to a report by the Agriculture Ministry released on Thursday, the African swine fever virus (ASFV) has been diagnosed for the first time in Slovakia, with a case confirmed in Strazne, near the Hungarian border. Nine other EU member states are currently affected by the outbreak, including Poland and Hungary.
The Czech Republic remains to this day the first and only country in the world to have eradicated the contagious and deadly viral disease affecting pigs and wild boars on its territory.
The recently-diagnosed animals in Slovakia will be slaughtered, while a 3-kilometre protective zone and a 10-kilometre supervision zone will be set up around the outbreak. Livestock owners in these areas will be asked to obey further instructions in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Extra vigilance and preparation
The outbreak has caused mass disruption across East and Southeast Asia and has continued to spread to vast regions of China and other Asian countries, raising serious concerns in other countries such as the US and Canada.
While the situation in the EU remains stable, the European Commission recently stressed the importance of multi-sectoral collaboration in order to contain the disease, for which there is no cure. The Commission urged member states to renew efforts at all levels with the aim of ensuring compliance with existing rules on the protection of animals during transport, in particular over long distances and under hot weather conditions.
Extra vigilance and preparation are imperative, particularly “due to the peak of the disease during the summer season”.
The European Livestock and Meat Traders Union (UECBV) strongly supports the plea of the Commission to remain vigilant, claiming that “the success of the EU control system, including EU regionalization, can be seen in the eradication of ASF in the Czech Republic.”
Indeed, while the Czech Republic recorded its first ever case of African swine fever in 2017, the European Council announced earlier this year that the country was the first in the world to eradicated the virus.
Harmless to humans
First reported in domestic pigs in eastern Africa in 1921, the disease is harmless to humans but can have a significant impact on global markets. The virus spreads through sick animals’ secretions and can survive for long periods on workers’ clothes and shoes or hay, which helps it move from farm to farm.
The virus became increasingly common in sub-Saharan Africa over the 20th century and first struck Europe in 1957, arriving in Portugal from Angola. From there, it spread to Spain and France, and remains endemic on the Italian island of Sardinia.
The current outbreak originated in Georgia where a virus matching strains from of the disease was diagnosed in 2007, apparently brought in with food waste discarded from a ship. It quickly spread throughout Georgia and to neighboring countries, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Belarus, before slowly making its way to the EU’s borders.
The appearance of ASFV outside Africa at about the same time as the emergence of AIDS led to some interest in the potential connection between the two. In 1986, a report supporting this even appeared in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, while The New York Times even published an article entitled “An African Swine Fever Link With AIDS?“. Of course, the discovery that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS has since then discredited any connection with ASFV.