- Tucked between motorways in the west of the city, the drab brick building belonging to Madrid’s Complutense University stretches the length of a football pitch.
- The current outbreak, believed to threaten around three-quarters of the world’s herds, can be traced to the 2007 appearance of the virus in Georgia.
- And there’s not enough of a history to know exactly what’s going to happen.
Combating African swine disease, which has killed more than 100 million pigs since 2018, has proven to be more difficult than initially anticipated as reported by The Guardian.
Tucked between motorways in the west of the city, the drab brick building belonging to Madrid’s Complutense University stretches the length of a football pitch.
Inside, a series of sterile laboratories – capable of handling the world’s most dangerous pathogens – can be found along a brightly lit hallway.
This is the frontline of the EU’s battle against another, albeit lesser-known, global pandemic: the highly infectious African swine fever (ASF), which has swept through dozens of countries, forcing farms to cull millions of animals.
Long endemic to Africa, ASF is harmless to humans but often fatal to pigs.
Aided by the ability to survive up to 1,000 days in frozen meat and persist for long periods on clothing and vehicles, it soon began to spread beyond the Caucasus.
In 2018, ASF turned up in China, home to around half of the world’s pigs.
By 2019, there were concerns that as many as 100 million pigs had been lost.
From Papua New Guinea to the Dominican Republic, reports of the virus rolled in from 45 countries across five continents, forcing the protective culling of pigs, leaving family farms devastated and markets reeling from export bans.
“This is the biggest animal disease outbreak we’ve ever had on the planet,” says Dirk Pfeiffer, a veterinary epidemiologist at City University of Hong Kong.
The only tool currently available to battle the virus, he adds, “is to emphasise to farmers the importance of enhanced biosecurity”.
“You have to know the virus really well and understand where it hides and its tricks.”
The experience – along with the meteoric rise in Europe’s wild boar population – has cemented Sánchez-Vizcaíno’s view that a vaccine is the best hope for halting ASF.
The scientist is coordinating an EU-funded global consortium that, since its launch in 2019, has homed in on three vaccine candidates with the potential for use on domestic pigs and wild boars.
The focus is now on carrying out large-scale tests to see how the candidates interact with other illnesses or pregnant sows.
The aim is to have the vaccine ready to roll out by late 2024, according to Sánchez-Vizcaíno.
Similar efforts are playing out around the world.
At the Pirbright Institute in the UK, a team focused on ASF has been refining its own potential vaccine candidate for the past two years.
“And there’s not enough of a history to know exactly what’s going to happen.”
With several promising vaccines now identified and rigorously tested for safety, the focus has shifted to large-scale trials.
“Whenever you start to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of pigs, you might find out some things that weren’t apparent from the smaller scale,” Dixon says.
The risks were laid bare this year after Vietnam announced in June it would become the first country in the world to administer an ASF vaccine.
It is not known how many of the deaths were caused by the vaccine, which had been produced in Vietnam after being developed at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and licensed to companies around the world.
In order to determine exactly what occurred, an inquiry is presently ongoing. According to Douglas Gladue, a senior scientist at the USDA’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the vaccine’s manufacturer claimed in a study that certain farms in three provinces had disregarded instructions to use it only on healthy pigs between eight and 10 weeks old.
According to Gladue, “the vaccination was utilised off-label and on farms where the pigs were not healthy.” “There are no issues in the other 17 provinces that are administering the vaccine under supervision. There are still vaccination campaigns in certain provinces.”
The enormity of the challenge that lied ahead was reinforced by news of the Vietnam trials spreading throughout the scientific community working to understand ASF. Sánchez-Vizcano in Madrid claims, “It was a frigid shower.” “Nobody anticipated that,”
The powerful virus that researchers are up against in this pandemic has been starkly brought to their attention; it is more robust, complex, and less understood than the coronavirus, he adds. “Covid is a very straightforward virus. contrary to ASF.”
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Source: The Guardian