Research Projects Aim To Stop Spread Of African Swine Fever To The US

A pig farmer looks at her pigs at a hoggery.
China Photos / Getty Images

U.S. farmers face a new risk, the global spread of African swine fever. The virus has already spread from Africa to China and Western Europe.

An outbreak in the United States threatens to devastate the swine industry and halt pig exports.

Researchers from Kansas State University and the Biosecurity Research Institute may hopefully prevent this from happening. Their research projects on African swine fever aim to stop the spread of the disease and prevent it from reaching the United States.

The disease is transmitted among pigs by direct contact with infected animals, carcasses, bodily fluids, or through consumption of contaminated meat. The disease does not infect humans but it is highly fatal for infected pigs.

The condition is characterized by pigs developing hemorrhaging lesions on the skin and internal organs, which often leads to death within 10 days of infection. No vaccine and cure are currently available to prevent and treat the disease.

To date, more than 361,000 infected wild boars and domestic pigs have already been reported to the World Organization for Animal Health, with more than 119,000 reported deaths this year.

According to CNN, the financial consequences of an outbreak are substantial since the entire population of a pig farm needs to be culled once the virus is detected.

These hogs are raised on a farm in Elma, Iowa.
  Scott Olson / Getty Images

Animal disease experts said that once the disease enters the country, it may result in billions in economic losses to swine and related industries. It may also devastate trade and international markets.

“African swine fever’s introduction into China poses an increased threat to the U.S.,” warned Biosecurity Research Institute director Stephen Higgs in a statement published by Kansas State University on Oct. 8. “Research, education and training at the Biosecurity Research Institute help to improve our understanding and preparedness for this threat.”

The Biosecurity Research Institute became the first non-federal facility to get approval for work with African swine fever virus in 2013. Kansas State University projects at the institute are part of research that can transition to the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) once it becomes fully functional.

African swine fever is one of the diseases set to be researched at NBAF, which is now being constructed adjacent to the Manhattan campus of Kansas State University. The African swine fever projects at the university receive part of its funding from the $35 million State of Kansas National Bio and Agro-defense Facility Fund, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the pork industry.