African Swine Fever (ASF) remains deeply entrenched in Georgia and has recently also hit northern Armenia and the outskirts of the capital Yerevan, FAO said today. It is certain that the epidemic in Georgia is the source of the outbreaks in Armenia, FAO said.
“The spread of the African Swine Fever virus to the Caucasus region poses a very serious animal health risk and could lead to a dramatic situation,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech.
“Without a more vigorous surveillance and disease control strategy the virus could become endemic in the Caucasus and could eventually make its way to other regions. The EU, Russia, the Ukraine and other countries have a serious problem on their doorsteps that needs to be urgently addressed,” he added.
African Swine Fever was confirmed in Georgia in early June 2007, the first time the virus occurred in the Caucasus region. The virus was probably introduced by improperly disposed waste from international ships carrying contaminated meat or meat products.
The virus has rapidly spread throughout Georgia, with 52 of 65 districts being currently affected. It is likely that more outbreaks will occur, FAO warned. More than 68 000 pigs have died of the virus or been culled. Proper surveillance followed by killing infected animals or animals at risk, movement control of animals and biosecurity on farms is essential to get the disease under control.
In Georgia, around 500 000 pigs are kept mainly in backyards. They are usually allowed to roam freely, which contributes to the spread of the disease. Pig production is an important source of meat for rural communities and of income.
In Armenia, outbreaks are on the rise and it seems likely that the virus is spreading. “All pig units must be regarded as being at risk,” a recent joint mission of the European Community, FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to Armenia warned. Pigs number between several hundred thousand and over one million and are mainly kept in small backyard herds.
“If both countries do not get a grip on the virus, there is a real risk that they might lose most of their pig population to ASF,” Domenech warned.
FAO is planning to provide emergency technical assistance to Georgia and Armenia in order to accelerate rapid surveillance and to support the governments in implementing a national control strategy. FAO also aims to strengthen veterinary services through training and the provision of equipment. Public awareness campaigns are required to involve the public in disease control.
“The drastic reduction of veterinarians in Georgia, lack of transport at all levels, insufficient surveillance and monitoring programmes, poor biosecurity and uncontrolled swill feeding are issues that need to be urgently addressed,” said FAO veterinary expert Klaus Depner.
“Georgia is a completely unprotected country regarding the introduction of highly dangerous viruses. ASF offers a chance to improve disease surveillance and control capacity and build a line of defence against future animal diseases,” he said.
ASF is a highly contagious virus infection of pigs that is usually lethal. The disease is not dangerous for humans. ASF is endemic in domestic and wild pigs in most of sub-Saharan Africa and Sardinia/Italy. The disease can wipe out entire pig populations and has serious impact on food security and livelihoods. There are no vaccines or drugs available to prevent or control the infection.