Photo: Colourbox

Outbreak of African swine fever would prove costly

Thursday 29 Sep 16
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by Tom Nervil

No risk to human life

  • African swine fever cannot spread to people, so contact with infected animals does not constitute a threat to human health.

  • The veterinary contingency response against contagious diseases in livestock is a partnership between DTU Vet and the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.

DTU Vet has demonstrated that an outbreak of African swine fever in Denmark would cost the country somewhere in the region of DKK 2.5 billion (EUR 330 million).

A new simulation model prepared by DTU Vet might explain how and how quickly African swine fever could spread if it reached Denmark—and what the financial consequences might be of an outbreak of the disease. The model plays an important role in Danish contingency plans to tackle the disease.

African swine fever (ASF) is a serious, often fatal, contagious viral disease in pigs. While the disease has never been observed in Denmark, it has come as close as a number of countries in Eastern Europe, so it is important to have contingency plans in place if it should strike, with infection crossing the border in pigs transported from a nearby country.

The disease is not just spread by air within a single livestock holding, but also between herds over large distances through personal contact or when animals are moved. Data from studies of the spread of ASF in small groups of pigs are therefore first integrated into a model that simulates infection within a herd. They are then applied in a larger model that simulates infection between multiple herds. This makes it possible to predict the scope and duration of an outbreak and the consequential costs.

“African swine fever is associated with high mortality, so it was necessary to develop a new, much more sophisticated model to simulate the spread of the disease within several herds,” relates Anette Boklund, Senior Advisor at DTU Vet.

"African swine fever is associated with high mortality, so it was necessary to develop a new, much more sophisticated model to simulate the spread of the disease within several herds. "
Anette Boklund, Senior Advisor at DTU Vet

The SIR (Susceptible-Infectious-Recovered/Removed) model is based on results from studies using the strain of the virus that is blossoming in Eastern Europe, and it is updated continuously with new data as and when other experimental studies are concluded and published. For example, a new PhD project carried out on Lindholm Island contributed important data.

Every single day counts
“The provisional simulations indicate that an outbreak of African swine fever in the Danish pig population would have only limited scope, infecting three herds and lasting for a period of 28 days. The duration of an epidemic is calculated as the period from the time the first herd is diagnosed until the last infected animal has been dealt with. However, it would take two or three months for Denmark to be reclassified as ASF-free,” adds Anette Boklund.

The simulation thus indicated that total losses in the form of funds to combat the outbreak and, in particular, lost export income from an outbreak of African swine fever would amount to approximately DKK 2.5 billion.

“It is therefore essential to take measures to prevent contagion of Danish livestock holdings,” emphasizes Anette Boklund.

The next step is will be to establish whether an outbreak could be limited by changing the control strategy.