Swine fever spreads

The Institute for Animal Health has announced the spread of tick-borne African swine fever from Africa to pigs in Georgia, south-east Europe.

The spread of the devastating pig disease, which has caused major economic losses in many African countries, has potentially serious consequences for Georgia and surrounding countries.

African swine fever has a high fatality rate and is very contagious. Outbreaks have been reported at ten sites throughout Georgia and over 20,000 pigs have been slaughtered to contain the outbreak.

There is no vaccine or effective treatment for the disease, which is spread by contact between pigs, by eating of infected pig meat, contamination of the environment and by biting flies.

The virus also grows in a species of soft tick and, in areas where these are present, bites from infected ticks can spread virus to pigs. The virus does not cause disease in humans.

The exact origins of the virus are unclear but Dr Linda Dixon, Head of the African swine fever virus research Group at the Institute for Animal Health said: "Our genetic fingerprinting indicates that the source of the infection is the eastern side of southern Africa, rather than west or central Africa or Sardinia."

This is the second emergence of an exotic disease in Europe within a year. Last summer bluetongue virus was introduced into northern Europe. It was then spread to cattle and sheep in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands by biting midges.

Genetic fingerprinting by scientists at the Institute for Animal Health identified the causative bluetongue virus as type 8, which had never previously been detected in Europe.

These incidents highlight the potential for movement of exotic diseases over long distances and emphasise the need to assist developing countries to monitor and control infectious viruses.