Research Brief: Could African Swine Fever Make its Way into the U.S.?

11:43AM Oct 23, 2019
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( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

African swine fever (ASF), a disease only contagious in pigs and wild boars, has been spreading across the Caucasus region, Europe and Asia since 2007, but has not yet reached the United States. Since the 2018 outbreak in China, the country has slaughtered an estimated 1,170,000 animals. 

Following the recent spread of ASF in Asia and western Europe, a team of researchers from around the world, including some from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, set out to measure the risk of ASF entering the United States through the smuggling of pork products in air passenger luggage. Their findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The study found: 

  • the risk of ASF arriving in the United States has nearly doubled since the ASF epidemic began in 2018;
  • five specific airports account for over 90% of the potential risk: Newark-New Jersey, George Bush-Houston-Texas, Los Angeles-California, John F. Kennedy-New York and San Jose-California; and
  • there’s a high probability that the ASF virus is already reaching the U.S. borders through smuggling of pork products; however, likely due to the work of United States Customs and Border Protection, the virus has not entered the country. 

“If ASF were to enter the United States, its spread would cause immense economic damage to the pork industry and food production more broadly, leading to the loss of billions of dollars for swine producers,” said study co-author Andres Perez, director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety. “Our study’s findings can help support decision-making for disease surveillance strategies in the U.S. swine industry and transportation hubs.” 

Perez said that the University of Minnesota Center for Animal Health and Food Safety will continue working closely with Minnesota and U.S. swine veterinarians and producers to increase preparedness and awareness to prevent or mitigate the impact of a hypothetical ASF epidemic.

Perez's expertise includes veterinary epidemiology, prevention and control of food animal diseases and swine health.