African swine fever is one of the most serious diseases of pigs and is found in many African countries, Asia, eastern Europe, Belgium and Sardinia. The disease is caused by infection with African swine fever virus (ASFV).
The disease: ASF is a systemic haemorrhagic disease with up to 100% mortality in affected herds. There is no vaccine currently available to protect pigs against ASF, therefore control and prevention depends on management practices including strict quarantine regulations. In addition to the losses from disease outbreaks and cost of control programmes, ASF also hampers the regional and international trade in animals and animal products resulting in a substantial socio-economic impact on the pig farming sector.
In Europe there are currently two main clusters of infection: one in Sardinia caused by strains of African swine fever virus (ASFV) belonging to genotype I and another in Eastern Europe caused by strains of ASFV belonging to genotype II. The latter was introduced in Georgia in 2007 and since spread to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine where, in certain areas, the disease is now endemic representing a constant threat for the neighbouring countries. In 2014 ASFV genotype II spread to Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and Estonia affecting mainly wild boar and backyard pigs. In 2017 it spread further to the Czech Republic and Romania and then in 2018 to Belgium, Hungary and Bulgaria.
In addition to the spread of ASFV further into Europe, in 2018 it was reported for the first time in Asia. Outbreaks have occurred in Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, the Philippines, Republic of Korea and Timor-Leste. Millions of pigs have been slaughtered in attempts to stop the disease from further spread.
Wild boar have played a key role in the spread of ASF through Eastern Europe since 2007, acting as a wildlife reservoir of the virus. Good biosecurity measures which prevent contact between wild boar and domestic pigs can prevent ASF outbreaks in domestic pig populations. However biosecurity measures against ASFV in the backyard pig sector, which is often the interface between wild boar and domestic pigs, are neither well defined or easily implemented, and the majority of ASF outbreaks have occurred in this production sector.
Priority requirements for ASF control: The DEFEND consortium will focus on ASF prevention, building on the substantial body of research that has been carried out since the ASF epidemic began in 2007. The aim is to develop practical tools to prevent further ASF spread in Europe. WP1 will use a risk assessment framework to identify pathways for the introduction and spread of ASF and compare the effectiveness of control measures. WP6 will develop an evaluation tool to promote farm-based control strategies for ASF, and dissect the role of wild boar in ASF transmission. WP7 will develop a novel peptide-based ASF vaccine aimed at providing protection against the genotype II ASFV strain currently circulating in eastern Europe.