On travel and dining out: What you should know about African swine fever

TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2016/08/13: Slices of cooked bacon, full frame image. Pan American Food Festival Yonge Dundas Square. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2016/08/13: Slices of cooked bacon, full frame image. Pan American Food Festival Yonge Dundas Square. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, food safety has become a hot topic in the restaurant, food and beverage industry. One concern cropping up is African Swine Fever (ASF). What is ASF, is it a threat to human health, and what can you do to prevent ASF from spreading?

What is African Swine Fever?

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious, viral and deadly disease that can affect pigs of any age or origin. The virus has a 95-100% mortality rate and can have serious implications for farmers.

Although ASF has yet to be detected in the U.S., the risk of detection is high. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and various other parties are doing all they can to keep the virus at bay and prevent it from transmitting to pigs in the country.

ASF is also a highly resilient virus, meaning it can survive in the environment with ease. It can even be spread to pigs through humans’ clothing, vehicles, equipment or contact with feces or bodily fluids from other pigs.

African Swine Fever Symptoms

When pigs become infected with ASF, they can experience a wide range of acute or chronic symptoms, including:

  • High fever
  • Muscle weakness
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Reduced or no appetite and weight loss
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Red or blotchy skin
  • Skin lesions

Sometimes, symptoms of ASF in pigs are very obvious, but other times, it can be challenging to detect or easily mistaken for other diseases.

The disease spreads very quickly and kills most pigs that get it. This can be a huge issue for the pork industry, although an increasing number of people are deciding to rid pork of their diets, especially in the ketogenic diet.

Some people have decided to only eat Halal-certified foods, which do not ban the use of meat, but are against negative factory farming practices.

African Swine Fever Treatment

How is ASF treated in infected pigs? Currently, there is no vaccine to administer to pigs to try and prevent the spread of ASF. There’s also a lack of commercial treatment options for infected pigs, despite the virus being detected decades ago.

Unfortunately, the only way to contain the virus is by quarantining the infected pig population or slaughtering them. While no farmer wants to do this, it ends up being their only option once their population becomes infected with ASF.

In the future, it’s possible that an ASF vaccine will emerge. Researchers are still working hard to find a viable vaccine so the farming economy can remain resilient against ASF.

Does ASF Affect Humans?

If you eat pork, you might be wondering if you should be concerned about ASF. Luckily, ASF cannot be transmitted to humans, meaning ASF is of no real threat to humans or public health. However, humans still play a major role in keeping pig populations safe from ASF, helping the farming and pork industries thrive.

Tips for Traveling and Dining Out

Here are some important tips to consider following if you want to do your part to reduce the spread of ASF in pig populations.

Understand the Risk

As mentioned before, ASF can be transmitted to pigs and spread through our clothing, hands, vehicles and equipment. It’s important that you avoid touching any potentially infected pigs whether you’re in the states or abroad. This can help reduce the chances of ASF spreading. If you do go abroad, be sure to wash your hands frequently, sanitize your clothing and shoes and practice good hygiene.

Declare Items and Farm Visits

Suppose you go abroad and visit a farm or bring back souvenirs from your trip. In that case, it’s a good idea to declare them at customs. Only bring back safe food items, as you never know if the items could be contaminated with ASF. When you reenter the country, be sure to tell customs about any overseas trips to farms or places where pig populations exist.

Take Precautions Abroad

When you’re visiting farms abroad, be sure to follow any biosecurity protocols they have in place. You may want to wear coveralls or specific clothing or site-specific footwear to reduce spreading the virus, too. When you do return to your country, it’s a good idea to avoid visiting any farms or areas with pigs for at least five days.

As for dining out, there is no real risk you should be concerned about. The goal is to keep the U.S. free of ASF, as it can have real damaging effects on the farming community and pork industry.

Protecting Pigs From ASF

If you dine out or travel frequently, you may be concerned about contracting or spreading ASF. Fortunately, humans cannot contract ASF, so you can feel free to dine out or travel, as long as you follow basic food safety guidelines. Consider reviewing the tips above if you plan on traveling to any farms abroad, as it can help keep pig populations healthy.

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