On September 17, African swine fever broke out on a pig farm in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, for the first time in Korea. So far, the situation has spread to the Paju, Yeoncheon, Gimpo, and Ganghwa regions. African swine fever is an infectious swine disease caused by a virus. There is no cure or vaccine, so the fatality rate is high. The virus was endemic to Africa, and prevalent in the southern Sahara region. However, since a Chinese outbreak in August 2018, it has spread to Mongolia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
So, how did the virus come to Korea? Although the exact route of infection is unsure, it is usually attributed to the movement of infected pigs, wild boars, or virus-contaminated objects. Because there is no cure, rapid prevention is more important than anything else. Therefore, the government is carrying out the thorough quarantine and disinfection of all affected farms. In addition, livestock, workers, and vehicles may be prevented from moving. The government has the power to suspend movement in cases of severe outbreak. The temporary suspension order currently in place prevents people, livestock, and vehicles involved in pig farming from entering and exiting the country to prevent the spread of the virus. Fortunately, this disease can not be transmitted to humans, but only to animals such as pigs and boars. So there is no need to worry about possible human infection. Since problematic livestock products are not being distributed, pork currently sold in grocery stores can be eaten with ease.
Just because pork is still available, doesn’t mean that African swine fever is not a problem. Public efforts are needed to prevent African swine fever from spreading further. It is not easy to combat an outbreak of the virus, but it is possible. In June 2017, an outbreak of African swine fever occurred in the Czech Republic, but the virus was eradicated in less than two years. In April of this year, the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) officially declared the Czech Republic to be African swine fever-free. With the goal of exterminating the virus in the shortest period of time, the Czech Republic implemented policies to control the wild boar populations. Through measures such as encouraging the hunting of wild boars, installing fences, and thoroughly disinfecting them, they were able to eradicate the virus faster than in other countries. In Spain, which is famous for its Iberico ham, it took 30 years to eradicate the virus. African swine fever was introduced in the 1960s and wasn’t eradicated until the 1990s. Like the Czech Republic, Spain took steps such as installing fences, but had few measures against wild boars. It is now a country free of African swine fever with no reports of an outbreak.
The Korean government wants to draw up similar policies to address the Korean outbreak of the virus. Experts point out that the Environment Ministry should implement more aggressive and preemptive policies to deal with wild boars. Some animal organizations may hunt wild boars, but if the government doesn’t do something to eradicate the virus, then 100% of domestic wild boars and pigs will die.
Government measures are important, and the support of the people is necessary. It is recommended to refrain from entering Korea with livestock products from abroad, and to refrain from visiting livestock farms when traveling to countries where African swine fever has occurred. If livestock or livestock products are accidentally transported from abroad, they must be voluntarily reported at the airport. If a wild boar is found dead, it should be immediately reported to a nearby public authority. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (http://www.mafra.go.kr/FMD-AI/) provides a brief and concise description of African swine fever, so it is important to be aware and careful.
By Bae Yun-bin firstname.lastname@example.org
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