Philippines confirms African swine fever, culls 7,000 pigs

Mass culling carried out at farms in 2 provinces in northern Philippines worst hit by highly-contagious disease.

    The Philippines is the latest country to be hit by the disease, which has ravaged pig herds in Asia [Alanah Torralba/EPA]
    The Philippines is the latest country to be hit by the disease, which has ravaged pig herds in Asia [Alanah Torralba/EPA]

    Lab tests have confirmed that African swine fever caused the deaths of pig herds in at least seven villages near Manila. A multi-agency body will be set up to ensure the highly-contagious disease does not spread further, Philippine officials said on Monday.

    Secretary of Agriculture William Dar said at a news conference that 16 out of 20 blood samples sent to a British lab tested positive for the disease, but further tests were needed.

    "What hit us we don't know among the 35 strains," Dar said, referring to the different strains of the virus with varying degrees of lethality. He appealed to journalists to help the government prevent public alarm that could hurt local pig farming.

    More than 7,400 pigs have been culled on farms in villages in Rizal and Bulacan provinces that were feared to have been hit by the viral infection in recent months.

    The Department of Agriculture is verifying reports of infections in other areas, Dar said, but he refused to identify the areas.

    According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, African swine fever is not a risk to human health.

    Despite confirmation of the infections, Philippine authorities are in control of the problem and will further tighten quarantine checks, including in airports and seaports, and crack down on smuggling of imported meat to prevent large-scale outbreaks, officials said. They assured that pork supply and prices will remain normal.

    "The hog industry is one of the more critical industries in the country. Let us not allow it to be affected in a big way," Dar said. "Everything that has to be done by government with the help of the private sector is being done."

    The Philippines is the latest country in Asia to report the disease, with hard-hit China and Vietnam culling millions of pigs and scrambling to find a vaccine for an infection that has ravaged their swine industries.

    China is home to half of the world's pig population. In Vietnam alone, the virus has caused the deaths of more than four million pigs.

    African swine fever is fatal and highly contagious for pigs, with no known cure.

    It can be transmitted through contaminated feeds, and even through non-living objects such as shoes, clothes and knives due to the virus' high resistance. 

    The disease has been reported in China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos and North Korea.

    Some experts have said the current spread of swine fever is the largest known animal disease outbreak in history.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies