Update ASF in Poland
Poland witnessed the first ASF infections in wild boars as early as in February 2014. In mid-November the situation worsened, with the recording of ASF positive wild boars in a distance 330 km away from the borders of ASF-restricted area in the east of Poland and less than 80 km away from the German border. Read an extensive update of the situation of ASF, including measures and factors which have been likely to spread the virus.
Poland witnessed the first ASF infections in wild boars as early as in February 2014. Since then (until to-date) 5 351 ASF cases were noted. As regards the occurrence of the disease in pigs, first outbreaks in Poland were noted in July 2014, reaching the number of 261 infected farms so far. Additionally, in mid-November the situation worsened, with the recording of ASF positive wild boars in a distance 330 km away from the borders of ASF-restricted area in the east of Poland and less than 80 km away from the German border.
What is African Swine Fever?
African swine fever (ASF) is a viral disease of swine animals, both domestic pigs and wild boars, leading to deaths of infected animals. It is not harmful to humans. The disease eradication is difficult as the ASF virus remains viable for long periods in blood, faeces and tissues, and it is highly resistant to low temperatures. Therefore, the presence of the virus in the wildlife is a potential threat to the pig industry. Heat inactivates the virus while thermal processing by 56°C/70 minutes or 60°C/20 minutes, thus processed pork products are not regarded as the source of infection (OIE, 2019). However, infected, uncooked or undercooked pork products can contribute to the spread of the disease if given to pigs or left in the environment where wild boars can have access.
The country in which ASF occurs is exposed to very high economic losses in the meat and farming industry, caused by the deaths of pigs, the cost of eradicating the disease outbreaks, as well as the restrictions to trade and export of pigs, pork and products obtained from pigs.
ASF infection in wild boars
Up until November this year, there had been 5 351 ASF cases in wild boars in Poland, out of which 2 004 noted in 2019. This is slightly lower than last year when there had been 2 460 cases noted. However, the disease appears to be moving west and leading to significant increase of ASF-restricted area, presently covering around 1/3 of the Polish territory. Additionally, in mid-November the situation worsened, with the recording of ASF positive wild boars in a distance 330 km away from the borders of ASF-restricted area in the east of Poland and less than 80 km away from the German border.
In accordance with the OIE Animal Health Code the presence of ASF in wild life population should not affect trade in pigs, pork or swine products. However, many third countries do not respect the OIE recommendations and trade restrictions are imposed on exports from countries or regions with ASF positive cases in wild boars.
As communicated by the CVO in January 2019 the strategy for controlling ASF in wild boars in Poland is based, among others on:
- compliance with biosecurity rules for breeders and hunters - the role of biosecurity is to prevent the transmission of ASF;
- removing corpses of dead boars, both in areas subject to ASF restrictions and in other areas;
- determining the extent of disease occurrence in wild boars by monitoring including the examination of samples from every dead boar found in Poland, every wild boar shot suspected of being infected with ASF in an area not subject to ASF restrictions, and every wild boar shot in areas subject to ASF restrictions;
- wild boar hunting, both individual and collective (only when collective hunting is allowed);
- carrying out only individual hunting for wild boars in the quiet hunting zone (a strip about 40 km wide, the axis of which is the boundary between the restricted area (Part II) or the hazard area (Part III) and the protection area (Part I));
- sanitary hunting of wild boars, which is managed mainly in areas subject to ASF restrictions, along the main communication routes; and the sanitary shooting will not replace the execution of the hunting plan, but will only supplement it.
Therefore, the financial compensation for the hunt on wild boars was proposed and has increased over the years, currently amounting to 700 zloty per animal, when in the ASF-area. Around 168.000 wild boar have been killed in the second half of 2018 (BBC, 2019). While Poland’s current government encouraged hunters to hunt wild boars, a coalition of environmental groups, scientists and the political opposition started a petition against the hunting of wild boars. The petition has been signed over 400.000 times (Kosc, 2019).
However, in the case of the recent case in Lubuskie region (west of Poland), the additional strategy was applied, as will be described below.
2.Human factor in the spread
Hunt of wild boar
One of the main reasons behind the earlier mentioned petition against the hunt on wild boars is the accelerated spread of ASF. Rafal Kowalczyk from the Mammal Research Institute commented: “Mass collective hunts across vast areas could cause wild boars to move from where they’re threatened and spread the ASF virus faster and further. It is also unlikely that the local hunting associations tasked with culling will take care not to spread the virus by disinfecting clothes or cars and dealing with the carcasses properly”. Last year, Wallonia banned the hunt on wild boars as a measure to stop ASF from spreading faster. Polish hunters insist that the hunting of wild boars makes sense and that it will not help spread the virus (Kosc, 2019).
Threatened reporting of dead wild boars
The costs of removing and utilizing the corpses of wild boars free of ASF virus from private areas subject to restrictions belong to farmers and owners of these areas. However, they can apply for a refund of costs up to PLN 170 if the order is issued by a district veterinary officer or voivode to manage the corpses of wild boars in the manner specified by them. Changes in regulations will be necessary to address the issue of costs of removing wild boars from areas not covered by ASF restriction. Otherwise, both farmers and forest owners might stop reporting cases of fallen wild boars in their areas, which would reduce the effective detection and assessment of ASF virus spread in the wild boar population. Nevertheless, the financial incentives should support notifying of fallen wild boars by hunters and forestry service. Presently, in accordance with the Regulation of MARD of 20 March 2019, a manager of the hunting district where dead wild boar was found is entitled to a reward of PLN 200 per corps (in ASF restricted areas) or PLN 100 (the rest of the country).
In 2014, almost all wild boars died within 7 days after infection. However, as indicated by the presence of antibodies, which can cause wild boar to survive for at least 10 days after infection, there is an increasing percentage of animals that survive longer and will have more chance to spread the virus into the environment. This phenomenon will intensify and it unfortunately shows a very dangerous course. The more animals that have antibodies, the more difficult it will be to fight the disease in the wild boar population.
3.Recent ASF cases in the west of Poland
On 14 November 2019 the occurrence of the first case of African swine fever (ASF) in wild boars in the Wschowa district, in the Lubuskie province, was confirmed, followed by further notifications, reaching the number of 22 ASF infected wild boars in the region, as of 22.11.2019.
ASF positive results in wild boar in the Lubuskie province indicates an isolated case of this disease occurring in wild boars, without the possibility of an epidemiological and geographical link with previously recorded cases of ASF on the territory of Poland, which indicates the human factor of virus transmission. Distance of ASF finding site in Lubuskie province from places of occurrence of this disease in the population of wild boars and outbreaks in pigs is over 300 km.
Immediately on-site activities related to the fight against ASF were initiated by the competent authorities of the Veterinary Inspection and the Province Crisis Management Center (WCZK). The infected area a circumference of approx. 36 km was established and fenced on 17 November 2019. Intensive screening of the infected area (hot spot) and adjacent areas was performed to analyze the epizootic situation and to plan the location of the construction of a second external fence. As the ASF infected wild boats were also found 5 km from originally designated hot spot, it was decided to extend the fenced area (the built of the second fence after the screening is ended), and to use the army to assist the veterinary service, the forestry service and the huntsmen in the screening.
Additionally, on 20 November 2019, Commission Implementing Decision (EU) No 2019/1931 of 19 November 2019 was published, establishing the so-called Part II (restricted) area, which indicates the occurrence of the disease in a given area in the wild boar population, and Part I (protection) area.
Designation of restricted and protection areas results in additional requirements on pig movement. Namely, in case of intra-EU trade, pigs transported outside the protection area must be accompanied by the health certificate and examined against ASF prior to movement. Additionally, the holding of origin, within 30 days prior to movement, did not enter pigs from ASF-restricted areas. Moreover, it is not allowed to transport pigs originating from the holding located in restricted area to other EU Member States free from the disease.
It must be also noted that the location of the recent ASF positive cases in wild boars is a threat to the neighbouring regions, in particular to Wielkopolskie province, with the highest pig industry in Poland (around 1/3 of Polish pig population). It is also dangerous to Germany, as the disease is noted 80 km away from the German border.
The threat of the disease caused the distress among farmers leading to local protests on 22 November 2019 in several regions of Poland (wielkopolskie, kujawsko-pomorskie, łódzkie, podkarpackie, lubelskie and opolskie). The farmers demanded, among others, the effective fight against ASF, fair compensation for damage caused by wild animals, and the reform of Hunting Law in order to speed up the reduction of wild boar population by the hunters.
Outbreaks in pig farms
African Swine Fever (ASF) surfaced in Poland in 2014. Up until November this year, there had been 261 ASF outbreaks in Poland, out of which 48 noted in 2019. This is significantly less than last year when by the end of November, there had already been 109 outbreaks. However, the disease appears to be moving west and where it is hitting bigger farms, making the total number of pigs infected higher than the year before. Also the ASF-restricted area has since spread to the coast and along the external border with Russian Federation, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, covering around 1/3 of the Polish territory.
Most Polish farms hit with ASF are the so-called “back-yard farms”. However, outbreaks in bigger farms are becoming more common as the disease is spreading west towards the bigger farms (ter Beek, 2019). Several countries have already implemented immediate bans on pork imports from countries affected by ASF (just to mention China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan), and some other have made calls for such bans on countries that are affected by ASF in their commercial herd (O'Brien, 2019).
Since 2015 the biosecurity programme for pig farmers in ASF infected areas is being carried out, which specifies the biosecurity requirements compulsory for those farmers. The inspections in this regard are performed by the Polish Veterinary Service and, in the case of lack of compliance, may result in administrative decisions ordering the farmers to seize the production of pigs.
Since 2018 there are subsidies available for smaller farmers with sows that quit farming in the ASF-restricted areas. These smaller farms, after ARMA, can get up to 136 zloty per animal, for up to 50 animals. Other financial means are available to farmers that have taken measures against the spreading of ASF, which will cover some of their costs (van den Pol, 2018).
Additionally, under general terms of eradication of animal infectious diseases, for farmers whose pigs test ASF positive, compensations are foreseen from the state budget. Compensation is due in the amount of the market value of the animals, animal products, feed and equipment culled or destroyed whole eradication of the disease. However, compensations for farmers not complying with the biosecurity rules (in particular with regard to animal identification and pig movement control) are not paid.
2.Human factor in the spread
Humans are said to be one of the main factors in spreading the disease. According to Dr. Klaus Depner, head of the International Animal Health Team at the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut it is a matter of human negligence. When talking about Eastern Europe, Depner said: “Often it was a matter of human misbehaviour. What happened is that infected meat made it to the market. When many pigs started to die, they were sent to slaughter. Pig prices dropped, cheap meat entered the market and the meat made its way into homes – and into suitcases. This is how the virus dispersed. The virus spread along the main roads, the transport routes. This spread bears a 100% human mark.” (ter Beek, 2015).
Another way in which ASF can be transmitted through wild boar remains is by humans. Foraging plays a central role in the Polish culture. Mushrooms, berries, and plants found in the wild are used in many everyday recipes and practices. Most Poles, even those not practicing it themselves, are familiar with foraging. The Polish market for wild mushrooms is quite active, especially in season (Parasecoli, 2017). Foraging can take place in areas where wild boar reside, where humans could also come in contact with remains of wild boar and further spread the disease (Guberti, Khomenko, Masiulis, & Kerba, 2018).
3. Other causes of spreading
Other possible causes behind the spread of ASF that were mentioned in the Polish media were the spread through wild boar infecting soil and feed.
Spread through remains
There are various ways in which wild boar could transmit the virus. Improper disposal of infected wild boar carcasses in the fields and forests could lead to remains becoming a potential source of the virus. These remains could cause secondary infections and spread the disease. Other remains such as feces, urine, blood, oral/nasal secretes can also carry the virus and cause secondary infections. Viral DNA of infected wild boar has been detected in the soil after removal of its carcass. The soil underneath the carcass could be contaminated with the virus. The survival of the virus is dependent on conditions such as the ambient temperature and soil properties. These survival conditions could explain why there are more outbreaks in the summer (Guberti, Khomenko, Masiulis, & Kerba, 2018).
Spread through feed
African swine fever is also orally transmittable through plant-based feeds and liquids. Pigs would need to consume higher doses of the virus to generate an infection from feeds. In recent experiments by Kansas State University, ASF was seen to be broadly stable and environmentally resistant in a diverse range of feed ingredients and complete feed (Einstein-Curtis, 2019). Even after this summer’s droughts and heatwaves, Poland is Europe’s best performing pig-feed producing country and has been for five years in a row. While Poland is the biggest producer, many individual Polish farmers produce their own feed on their fields (Koeleman, 2019). Since some of these fields are accessible for wild boar, the wild boar could leave remains that could infect the field. This could be where ASF is transmitted from the infected wild boar into the pig feed (Guberti, Khomenko, Masiulis, & Kerba, 2018).
From the findings below, it can be concluded that there should be a focus on biosecurity and as the hunt on wild boar is unsuccessful, different ways of depopulating the wild boar should be considered. The hunt on wild boar can cause the disease to spread faster, since the wild boar will move out of their habitats and humans partaking in the hunt can spread remains, certain regions such as Wallonia have banned the hunt on wild boar and applied containment strategies. These containment strategies include zoning, preventive measures, fencing, risk adapted hunting tactics and the collection of dead wild boar. This approach seems to be quite successful for Wallonia since only a few contaminated carcasses have been found over the last weeks, compared to the hundreds of carcasses in mid-June and there have been no outbreaks in domestic pigs. Similar measures were taken in the Czech republic and in April this year, Czech was announced as ASF-free (ter Beek, 2019). Such a solution should prove useful in the west of Poland if the monitoring confirms that the disease was contained in the hot spot.
The situation in the east of Poland is quite different, and as ASF has been present in Poland for 5 years and seems to be endemic in the wild life population. This means that the measures for this region of Poland will also be different. Research should be done into different ways to reduce the population of wild boar in Poland.
There should also be a focus on biosecurity, especially on smaller farms. Big farms often have high biosecurity standards, whereas there is still room of improvement regarding biosecurity on small and medium sized farms.
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