African swine fever a growing concern in the UK

While new cases of African swine fever (ASF) continue to be reported throughout Europe and further afield, according to a special report from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the UK continues to be free of the disease.

In the last 12 months, cases in domestic pigs in Europe have been reported in Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and the Ukraine. Cases in wild boar have been reported in Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, the Ukraine and, most recently and most concerningly, mainland Italy.

While ASF has been found on the island of Sardinia since the late 1970s, it has not been found in mainland Italy since 1993, reported Miranda Bowden-Doyle, AHDB animal health and welfare scientist. The case was found in Piedmont, in the north-west, and is nearly 800 km away from the nearest confirmed case in domestic pigs in Germany and nearly 1,000 km from the nearest case in wild boar in Hungary and Slovakia. This represents an enormous geographical jump, with human-mediated spread considered the most likely source.

This large leap highlights the need for ongoing vigilance in the UK, said Bowden-Doyle. "While we are an island and are lucky enough to have a natural physical border to help us keep ASF (and other diseases) out, human-mediated spread still represents the greatest risk to us," she said. "As travel regulations and restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic begin to relax, the number of travellers returning from abroad is likely to increase, and illegally imported or inappropriately disposed of pork and pork products are the most likely entry route for ASF into the UK."