African swine fever [part 1 in a series on game diseases]

Published on 22 June 2018
Author: Vincent Piednoir
There is one disease in this overview of illnesses affecting game that is garnering a lot of attention – and, unfortunately, we probably haven’t heard the last of it: African swine fever.

A look back at the history of African swine fever

Although it is not transmitted to humans, African swine fever is a highly contagious haemorrhagic virus that causes high fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory distress, etc; in all likelihood it is transmitted by ticks, usually causes the death of infected animals within a few (two to ten) days, and can wipe out a given population. It affects all age groups of warthogs as well as pigs and boar, and did not spread beyond sub-Saharan Africa until the late 1950s.

Since then, outbreaks have been identified in Portugal, Spain and Sardinia, where slaughters were carried out to eradicate the disease – successfully so in Portugal and Spain, likewise in Belgium and the Netherlands in 1985.

However, cases were found in Georgia in 2007 – the first recorded occurrences in this part of Europe. It was subsequently reported in the Baltic countries, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Russia.

Over the last forty years, the number of infected swine has continued to grow in these countries (approximately 400 recorded cases in 2014; over 4,000 in farms and in the wild in 2017). More than likely, the disease will spread to the West…

How can it be contained?

The lack of a vaccine or specific treatment at the current time makes the situation all the more worrying. The only foreseeable and enacted “responses” are strict controls on animal imports (pigs), measures to combat vectors (ticks), limits on natural reservoirs (e.g. boars in Europe), and, of course, slaughter.

In Germany – which is alarmed at the potentially disastrous consequences of the disease on the country’s very large pig farming industry – some regions have decided to pay hunters for each boar they kill. Note that 610,000 boar were shot last year in Germany, and the population continues to grow. Poland has an alternative “original” solution: there, the authorities grant hunters six days annual holiday to hunt boar!

Western Europe spared, so far

Although no cases of African swine fever have occurred officially in France, for the time being (cases must be reported immediately), the threat is, naturally, taken very seriously here, too. Besides the likely impact of the virus on pig farming, it would not be hard to imagine its effect on hunting and the hunt economy.

Almost 700,000 boar were killed in France during the last hunting season and, as in Germany, many regions are experiencing serious issues with growing boar populations.

In all likelihood, therefore, boar culls will need to be increased in the future if the disease is to be contained and a certain “balance” between species (especially boar) maintained. This isn’t how things stand at the moment…