African Swine Fever
African swine fever is a contagious animal disease of wild and domestic pigs. For humans, African swine fever is not dangerous. However, travelers coming from areas with African swine fever can transmit the disease! The disease is caused by a virus, there is no vaccine. It is fatal to domestic pigs and wild boar. The virus can remain contagious in blood, meat, bones and food for months and can be transmitted through contaminated shoes, clothing, tools and containers. Dogs and other animals cannot contract it. Here's what to watch out for:
- Bringing meat, sausage, bacon, etc. from non-EU countries into European Union countries is prohibited. As a rule, do not bring food made from pork and wild boar meat from home slaughtering
- Throw meat and sausage leftovers only in closable waste containers
- Feeding food scraps to domestic pigs and wild boars is prohibited
- If possible, avoid any contact with domestic and wild pigs.
Transmission occurs either via the bite of infected ticks (at present, this transmission route is not significant in Europe), through direct contact of susceptible (wild) pigs with infected conspecifics or their virus-containing body fluids, or through ingestion of virus-containing food waste. Since the virus is very resistant, it remains infectious to some extent even after drying or processing/maturing in raw meat products such as raw ham or salami.
The symptoms are strongly dependent on the virus strain. The strain currently present in Europe of the so-called genotype 2 usually leads to highly febrile, severe general diseases in domestic and wild pigs of all ages, in which bleeding into the skin and internal organs can occur. Affected animals usually die from the disease before they develop antibodies. However, there are also virus strains that lead to milder courses of the disease.
Situation in Austria
Austria has so far been spared from African swine fever, but it occurs in some immediate neighboring countries such as Slovakia and Hungary, but also in Belgium, Poland, the Baltic States, eastern Germany and some southeastern European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Serbia). On January 5 and 7, 2022, the first cases of African swine fever occurred in feral pigs in northern Italy. While genotype I has been endemic in Sardinia for decades, African swine fever is now appearing on the Italian mainland for the first time. In May 2022, cases in feral pigs were also reported in Rome. The main risk for Austria remains entry from the eastern outbreak areas in Europe.
In the Austrian animal disease radar, information on the international situation and spread of the most important animal diseases and epizootics relevant to Austria is assessed and compiled. In this way, possible risks for Austria can be identified and communicated at an early stage. The animal disease radar is published monthly.
In Austria, since the end of 2019, for the purpose of early detection, all feral pigs found dead must be reported and examined by AGES for the ASF virus. In addition, an examination of abortions as well as of clinically or pathologically conspicuous domestic pigs is also carried out. In 2021, 1,519 domestic pigs were examined by official order, only a fraction of which took place in the course of exclusion examinations. In the same year, 1,813 wild boars were examined for the ASF virus. In none of these cases was the virus detected.
African swine fever virus (ASFV) is a DNA virus that is the only virus belonging to the family Asfarviridae, genus Asfivirus. The ASF virus has a double-stranded DNA genome with a very complex structure, which is approximately 170,000 to 192,000 base pairs in size. There is only one serotype, but based on the viral p72 gene, 24 different genotypes are currently distinguished. The virus shows a tropism to macrophages and is therefore present in high amounts in the blood and all blood-containing organs. ASF is a notifiable disease.
The transmission route via ticks of the genus Ornithodoros, which was important in Africa and historically also in Europe, does not play a role in Europe according to current knowledge. Domestic and wild pigs become infected through contact with infected conspecifics, ingestion of food waste containing the virus and possibly through contaminated objects such as agricultural equipment, vehicles and clothing.
The incubation period is 4-19 days The main symptoms are fever (40.5°C to 42°C) and apathy. After entry of the pathogen into the host, viremia with fever occurs first. Many African wild pigs (e.g. warthogs) are inapparently infected with the virus. Pigs may also carry the pathogen without clinical signs (asymptomatic carriers). Symptomatic pigs show typical clinical signs, which depend on the strain of the virus.
There are several courses - depending on the virulence of the pathogen:
Peracute - acute form (usually caused by highly virulent ASF virus).
- Fever (40.5 °C to 42 °C)
- Leucopenia and thrombocytopenia (48 to 72 hours)
- Erythema = reddening of the skin: ears, tail, distal extremities, abdomen and chest
- bleeding in internal organs (spleen, lymph nodes, stomach, kidneys, lungs)
- increased pulse rate
- increased respiratory rate
- diarrhea (usually bloody)
- Death occurs within 6-13 days (up to 20 days). The mortality rate is 90-100% in domestic and wild pigs.
Subacute form (mostly caused by moderate-virulent ASF virus)
- Symptoms are not as severe as in the acute form; abortions occur more frequently. The course of the disease lasts 5-30 days. Death occurs within 15-45 days. The mortality rate is lower than in the acute form (30-70%).
Chronic form (usually caused by low-virulence ASF virus)
- Symptoms are not as pronounced as in the acute form
- weight loss
- irregular temperature fluctuations
- breathing problems
- chronic skin ulcers, sometimes skin necrosis
- adhesion of the lung
- joint swelling
- course of the disease lasts about 2-15 months
- low mortality rate (< 20 %)
- Examination for antibodies from blood (serum) by means of ELISA or immunoperoxidase test. The result allows a statement whether the animal had contact with the virus. The detection of antibodies does not mean immunity. In the peracute to acute form of the disease, the animals usually die before they develop antibodies.
- Examination by PCR from blood (EDTA blood) and organs (spleen, tonsils, lungs, kidney, liver, lymph nodes, bone marrow), as well as aborted material. Swabs containing blood are also suitable for virus detection. PCR detects the virus or virus components directly.
- Virus isolation: in contrast to PCR, this enables a statement to be made as to whether the virus is capable of infection. Virus isolation is hardly ever used in routine diagnostics.
- In all cases, the shipment of samples to the laboratory (see contact) should ideally be carried out by an authorised logistics company with the addition of coolants and in compliance with the relevant transport regulations (UN3373).
Last updated: 17.11.2022