Victoria prepares for disease outbreak

By Geoff Adams

Agriculture Victoria is increasing its African swine fever preparedness, with industry and governments keeping watch for potential detections in Australia.

African swine fever is a deadly disease of pigs that has spread rapidly through Asia over the past year and was recently detected in Timor Leste.

African swine fever is contagious among pigs and has a high rate of mortality in affected herds. It affects both domestic and feral pigs and can survive for long periods in the environment. Humans are not susceptible to it.

Agriculture Victoria met with key members of the agriculture and pork industries last week to discuss preparedness in the event that African swine fever is detected in Australia.

Representatives from Australian Pork Ltd, the VFF Pig Group, veterinary consultants and some large pork producers were in attendance.

Victoria’s acting chief veterinary officer Cameron Bell said working hand-in-hand with industry was a key part of being prepared.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility,” Dr Bell said.

“Everyone has a role to play in being prepared for responding to an incursion in order to have the best outcome.

“The need to work collaboratively on African swine fever preparedness continues to increase as the disease spreads globally.

“If African swine fever were to be detected in Victoria, we’d be working closely with the pig industry with the intent to contain the disease quickly so that it didn’t spread.

“We’d seek to do that by restricting pig movements, undertaking disease surveillance and addressing the situation on infected farms as necessary.

“Similarly, if ASF were to be detected in another state, we’d be working to prevent it from entering Victoria.”

VFF Pig Group president Tim Kingma said it was great to sit around a table with representatives from pig production, veterinary and government sectors all contributing to a discussion around preparedness.

“With African swine fever now so close, we’re extremely nervous about the risk,” Mr Kingma said.

“Everyone has a role to play in keeping it out — if you’re coming into contact with pigs, whether commercial, hobby farming or whether it be feral pigs, it’s imperative not to feed swill.”

Dr Bell said it was crucial for everyone with a pig to have a Property Identification Code and to be recording movements through the PigPass database, which would enable Agriculture Victoria to trace the disease more quickly in the event of a detection.

“Everyone coming into contact with pigs also needs to be vigilant about what they feed pigs — only certified pig rations, grain, fruit and vegetables are appropriate,” he said.

“Do not feed swill, or waste food to pigs. This includes food scraps with meat, butcher’s shop waste, or any food that contains meat and vegetables that have been served with meat.

“Swill feeding is banned in Victoria and throughout Australia to help protect our livestock from exotic animal diseases such as African swine fever.”

For further information about African swine fever, visit: or phone 136 186.

The facts about African swine fever

The African swine fever virus: what's the danger for Australia?

What is it?

  • African swine fever is a highly infectious virus that affects domestic pigs, warthogs and bush pigs.
  • The virus kills within a few days of infection, after causing pneumonia, skin ulcers and swollen joints.

Can humans or other animals be infected?

No. The virus only affects pigs and is different from the swine flu (H1N1) virus, which can infect humans.

How is the disease spread?

When uninfected pigs come into contact with infected pigs, pork products, feed or ticks.

Where are outbreaks happening?

  • The closest case to Australian shores was reported in Timor Leste last month.
  • The virus has also been reported in China, Hong Kong, Mongolia, South Korea, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia this year.

Could Australian pigs be at risk?

Yes. Government and industry groups are worried that if the virus spreads here it could endanger Australia's entire $5.3 billion pork trade.

How could it infect Australian pigs?

  • Through infected pork products being sent via mail to Australia.
  • People bringing infected products into the country via plane.

What actions have been taken to stop it?

  • A ban on the importation of live pigs, pig genetic material and uncooked pig meat.
  • Australian Border Force has doubled its efforts in detecting pork products being brought or sent into the country in luggage or via mail.
  • Biosecurity dogs sent to Darwin hoping to pick up any infected animals or products.
  • Increased penalties for bringing in undeclared meat products, including visa cancellations.

Is there a vaccine or cure?

No cure or vaccine has been successfully formulated, despite ongoing efforts since the virus' discovery in the 1950s.

Have there been major outbreaks in the past?

  • Yes. The virus was first discovered in the 1950s and outbreaks have occurred consistently since then.
  • Last year the virus swept through Europe with more than 10 countries confirming cases of the virus.
  • The latest outbreak in China is expected to kill 350 million pigs, or 25 per cent of the world's total population.