New study highlights the most effective ways to control African swine fever

A team of scientists in Scotland and Spain has reported that culling and fast removal of animal carcasses are critical for the eradication of the African swine fever (ASF) in pig herds.

Professor Andy White and his Heriot-Watt University mathematics research team worked with the SaBio group of the Spanish Game Resources Institute (IREC), UCLM & CSIC (Ciudad Real, Spain) to develop the new model.

ASF is a highly infectious virus that causes severe, usually fatal disease in domestic pigs and wild boar. There is no treatment or vaccine. It is not a threat to humans, but the virus can have a profound socioeconomic impact on areas with outbreaks.

Professor Andy White said: “African swine fever can rapidly devastate pig populations, there are outbreaks in China, Poland, Belgium and the Baltic states at the moment. In China, it is reported to have wiped out around 40 percent of the country’s pig population.

“Wild boar transmit the disease and their numbers are on the rise in Europe. There are several populations in the UK and here too numbers are increasing.

“Our mathematical model was used to understand the different ways that the virus could be transmitted.

“To match the data, we showed that infection needed to occur in three ways. Through contact between susceptible and infected wild boar, through contact between susceptible wild boar and infected carcasses and via individuals that survive the initial infection, but succumb to the disease after several months.

“Our new model also considered biosecurity measures that can help mitigate the spread of an outbreak.

“A combination of culling and the removal of infected carcasses is the most effective way to eradicate the virus without also eradicating the host population.

“It is important to act quickly: early implementation of these measures will reduce infection levels while maintaining a higher host population density. In some cases,  this could prevent the virus from establishing in a wild boar population.”

The model also suggests that it may be easier to control ASF in warmer climates.

“Higher temperatures lead to faster degradation of infected carcasses,  which also reduces the severity of an outbreak.”

In some regions, wild boar are supplementary fed to increase their density. The model suggests this should be avoided when ASF is a threat, as it leads to a more pronounced epidemic outbreak and persistence of the disease in the long-term.

The scientists reported the findings of their new model in Scientific Reports.