The spread of African swine fever (ASF) in Asia is taking a worrisome turn. First reported in northeastern China in August 2018, the highly contagious, often fatal pig disease quickly swept through the country, causing the death or culling of more than 1 million pigs. In recent weeks, it has jumped borders to Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Hong Kong, and possibly North Korea. Animal health experts agree that the disease will inevitably spread farther. And many of the newly hit countries are even less prepared to deal with ASF than China, they say, which has so far failed to end its outbreaks.
Vietnam and Cambodia “probably do not have the technical abilities to be able to control ASF,” says François Roger, an animal epidemiologist at the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development in Montpellier. He believes the virus will soon surface in Myanmar and Laos, which have “weak veterinary infrastructures and surveillance systems,” and it may become endemic in Southeast Asia. If so, it would pose a continuing threat of reintroduction into China, even if that country succeeds in controlling its own outbreaks. A reservoir of endemic disease could also pose a wider threat: ASF-contaminated pork products have already been confiscated from air travelers in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia.