African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious, haemorrhagic viral disease which can be fatal for all infected domestic pigs and wild boar. Traditionally, as its name would suggest, it has occurred mainly in Africa, but is spreading across Europe and Asia. In China, home to half the world's domestic pigs, more than 1 million pigs have been culled. In affected areas, the disease has been confirmed in wild boar as well as on farms, smallholdings and in pet pigs. In November 2018, the Belgian authorities reported two cases of ASF in wild boar in the Luxembourg area, close to the border with France.

The signs of ASF are very similar to classical swine fever, mainly fever, loss of appetite, lack of energy and sudden death with few signs beforehand plus a range of other symptoms. Signs typically occur three to five days after infection and ASF can result in death in almost all pigs that are infected.

ASF is highly contagious and can spread not only by contact with infected pigs or wild boar, their faeces or body fluids but also if healthy pigs eat infected meat or meat products -the virus can survive for long periods in cooked, frozen, cured or dried meat. It can also be spread by pigs coming into contact with anything infected with the virus, including people, clothing, vehicles and other equipment. There is currently no treatment or vaccine.

Like all livestock keepers, pig breeders are acutely aware of the biosecurity measures needed to keep diseases such as ASF at bay as the greatest threats come from outside of the pig industry itself.

In fact, anyone who travels to an area which has ASF runs the risk of bringing the disease back to this country. The government website, lists the European countries where ASF has been confirmed in some areas - and if you visit any of these, there is a risk you will bring the disease back if you have contact with pigs on farms or smallholdings or if you visit areas such as forest or woodland where wild boar may live. If you do visit such an area, you should clean and disinfect your clothing, footwear and vehicles before you return to the UK and have contact with pigs.

Keen walkers should be acutely aware that, if they have been walking in Europe in areas where infected wild boar live, there is a risk of them transmitting the disease to the wild boar population in the UK if they wear the same boots without properly cleaning them.

Another key risk is through infected meat or meat products. While it's illegal to trade in pork or wild boar meat from ASF affected areas, you can bring it back as a personal import. While meat carrying the virus is harmless to humans, it can transmit ASF to pigs or boar if they eat it.

ASF has the potential to pose a threat to the whole of the UK pig industry and the level of the threat to our rare breed populations is exacerbated by the fact that many breeds are in the hands of relatively few keepers. The loss of one significant herd could have a catastrophic impact on the future of a breed so it is imperative that the threat is understood and managed to keep ASF offshore.

What can you do to reduce the threat?

  • If you visit a farm where pigs are kept, respect the bio-security measures in place.
  • Never take pork or pork products onto a farm where pigs are kept.
  • When picnicking – on farmland or any other land – never throw leftover food down. Always wrap it securely before disposing of it (preferably take it home to do so).
  • If you visit an area where ASF is known to be present in the wild boar population, make sure you disinfect your boots or shoes before visiting either a farm with pigs or an area with wild boar in the UK.
  • Never feed pork or pork product scraps to pet cats and dogs as the virus could be spread in their droppings.
  • If you keep even just one pet pig or raise a couple of pigs for meat, never feed them raw or cooked catering or household waste – this is illegal.