Dreaded virus zaps pigs

The Philippines on Monday confirmed its first cases of African swine fever, becoming the latest country hit by the disease that has killed pigs from Slovakia to China, pushing up pork prices worldwide.

Dreaded virus zaps pigs

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the infected pigs were found in Bulacan and Rizal, and authorities have culled more than 7,000 pigs within a one-kilometer radius.

Dar said 14 of 20 samples sent to a UK laboratory tested positive for African swine fever, but it will take another week to confirm how virulent the strain is and whether it is similar to that of Vietnam and China.

READ: Don’t worry despite swine fever—Dar

The virus was first recorded in Rodriguez town in Rizal, 10 kilometers east of Manila. Other undisclosed areas are still being closely monitored for possible infection, he added.

“Today, we wish to announce the result of the confirmatory Polymerase Chain Reaction test [done in the United Kingdom]. It is African swine fever positive,” Dar said.

There is no antidote or vaccine and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of affected livestock. 

The virus is not harmful to humans but causes hemorrhagic fever in pigs that almost always ends in death.

He said the nation was not facing an epidemic and urged Filipinos to continue eating pork, which is a critical market and accounts for 60 percent of meat consumption in the country.

“We have never been in an epidemic, just to highlight that. We are responding to the increased number of deaths of pigs,” Dar said.

“To date, we believe we have successfully managed the issue, as a misstep could erode the gains and competitiveness of the country’s P260-billion swine industry that provides and sustains livelihood of millions of Filipino families, as roughly two-thirds or 65 percent of the industry is contributed by small backyard raisers,” he added.

The Philippines is the world’s 8th biggest pork producer by volume.

Authorities suspect the swine fever cases stemmed from backyard hog raisers who feed pigs swill, leftover food scraps from hotels and restaurants.

The Agriculture department added the virus could also be traced to smuggled frozen meat and returning overseas Filipino workers who brought back infected meat products.

In May, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization said pork prices had begun to soar, rising by up to 50 percent both in China and on the Chicago futures exchange.

Dar said the Agriculture department had yet to receive reports of more hog deaths.

Dar, along with Health Secretary Francisco Duque and other DA and DOH officials, hog stakeholders, and members of the private sector earlier shared a meal to show the public that it was safe to eat pork.

“As long as the hogs passed through the proper process of slaughtering and preparation, the public should not fear eating pork,” Dar said. 

“We want to allay the fears of the public by saying that, as long as pork is bought from reliable sources and it is cooked thoroughly, pork is safe to eat,” Duque added.

Before slaughtering, a hog is validated and assessed by a veterinarian, who then issues a medical certificate. Once slaughtered, the meats are stamped with a seal from the National Meat Inspection Service, assuring that it passed the food safety measures imposed by the government, Dar said.

Strict quarantine and monitoring protocols would remain in place to protect hog farms in other parts of the country, Dar said.

The DA also suspended the ground operations in Rizal province and focused on cleaning and disinfecting operations.

The Palace said the government has taken measures to ensure public safety.

According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), ASF is a severe and highly contagious viral disease among domestic and wild pigs.

It is commonly introduced into a herd after the feeding on uncooked or undercooked contaminated pork products which are then ingested by the pig.

The virus is then spread between pigs by direct contact with an infected pig, or ingestion of contaminated material (such as food waste, feed, or garbage). It can also be transmitted by contaminated fomites or ticks or blood-sucking insects.

Pigs infected with the ASF virus experience high fever, depression, loss of appetite, redness of ears, abdomen, and legs, vomiting, and diarrhea that may lead to death.

Because ASF can spread easily, hog raisers are advised not to feed raw or undercooked pork products such as swill, garbage or waste to pigs.

Senator Francis Pangilinan urged communities, including piggery owners, to be vigilant and immediately report signs of the disease.

“We hope that no more pigs will be culled, and if absolutely needed, it must be done in the humane way and in a manner that would not expose people to the disease,” Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan, who was food security secretary when an infected ornamental plant started the cocolisap infestation in 2014, said border controls must work to keep contaminated pork or pork products away. With AFP and PNA

READ: Bulacan hogs culled amid swine flu signs

READ: Ilocos bans pigs, pork, by-products

Topics: African swine fever , William Dar , Polymerase Chain Reaction test
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