SHIC Shares US ASF Research Update During Canadian ASF Preparedness Efforts Webinar

The Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) continues to receive questions about African swine fever (ASF) prevention and preparedness progress at home as well as what is happening around the world. Canada’s Swine Innovation Porc hosted a webinar titled, “African Swine Fever: How Is Canada Getting Prepared?” in January 2021 and invited SHIC Executive Director Dr. Paul Sundberg to be a presenter. While Dr. Sundberg discussed US-focused efforts, he emphasized the collaborative nature of several projects, saying it is a North American swine industry in many respects. Other presenters shared information on Canadian African swine fever (ASF) research priorities, actions, diagnostics, risk mitigation, and emergency euthanasia. These experts represent key Canadian pork-related agencies, businesses, and councils.

Dr. Andrew Van Kessel, VIDO-Intervac, Science Advisory Body Chair at Swine Innovation Porc, shared the Canadian pork industry’s ASF research priorities, saying an expert panel was convened to develop them. The six top priorities are surveillance and animal health, biosecurity, destruction and disposal, mental health, economic impact, and knowledge transfer. Dr. Van Kessel outlined funding challenges for work on ASF-related research while also reporting two projects are underway: surveillance using oral fluids and related portable virus detection processes as well as a small-scale swine holders survey which will address key issues surrounding biosecurity and surveillance. A current call for proposals for ASF Prevention and Mitigation Projects will result in further work being done for the Canadian pork industry, using funds from a variety of key stakeholders.

John Ross, CEO of the Canadian Pork Council, shared details on wide-ranging collaboration taking place across a large, complex supply chain, three levels of government and multiple government departments. To develop an action plan, four key areas of biosecurity, preparedness, business continuity, and communications have been identified and champions assigned to each. The champions for these priority areas are ensuring action, not just study, including the top ten actions now taking place:

Dr. Aruna Ambagala, National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, provided an update on research on alternative sample types for ASF diagnosis. The goal of successful alternative tests is to enable early detection of ASF in the commercial pork industry as well as to claim disease freedom in compartments during an outbreak. Currently, the two Canadian-approved sample types are whole blood and serum for animals showing clinical signs of ASF or tissues from recently deceased pigs including tonsils, spleen, and lymph nodes. These are not ideal as early detection is critical and the methods for collecting approved samples are labor-intensive, costly, and therefore impractical. Dr. Ambagala’s project to identify a solution with alternative samples includes evaluating group samples such as oral and processing fluids as well as post-mortem samples that can be collected quickly and safely without a complete post-mortem exam. Validation of these alternatives is underway comparing their suitability to the gold standard sample types of whole blood, tonsils, and spleen.

Dr. Murray Pettitt, CEO of the Prairie Swine Centre, detailed a project to improve understanding of knowledge that small scale producers have of appropriate biosecurity. The project will begin with collection of information from these producers via survey then results of that survey will inform effective and meaningful messaging, communications materials, and strategy. An online survey is being developed to assess knowledge, current practices, and appreciation of critical role of biosecurity. Following survey deployment, two focus groups will dig deeper into issues examining small producers’ motives for having pigs and what they would do if a foreign animal disease impacted them as well as refinement of communications measures. Results will be widely distributed to collaborators and industry stakeholders to effectively communication with small producers about ASF and the risks it presents.

Mark Flynn, Manitoba Pork, said several key questions are guiding work on emergency euthanasia preparedness planning. Those are:

With these questions in mind, two working groups are focusing on destruction and disposal issues, respectively. While current methods are being reviewed, participants are also looking at other, higher capacity methods emerging globally. With further work ongoing, a preliminary agreement on acceptable depopulation methods has been reached with gaseous, physical, electrical, and abattoirs being agreed upon.

Dr. Sundberg shared progress on ASF research being conducted in Vietnam, including Dr. Ambagala’s oral fluids sample project, saying the goal is twofold – first to share knowledge and ideas to strengthen veterinary services capacity for mitigating ASF impact in Vietnam and second the implementation of ASF field projects to learn preparedness lessons in a country experiencing an ASF outbreak. These projects include:

As the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, SHIC continues to focus efforts on prevention, preparedness, and response to novel and emerging swine disease for the benefit of US swine health. As a conduit of information and research, SHIC encourages sharing of its publications and research. Forward, reprint, and quote SHIC material freely. SHIC is funded by America’s pork producers to fulfill its mission to protect and enhance the health of the US swine herd. For more information, visit http://www.swinehealth.org or contact Dr. Sundberg at psundberg@swinehealth.org.