It was news that filled every European pig farmer with dread – deadly African swine fever confirmed in two boar in Belgium, writes Animal Health Europe’s Roxanne Feller.
Still haunted by the memory of foot-and-mouth, it was confirmation the spectre of animal disease outbreaks had returned to the door of Western Europe once more.
It has already been confirmed in nine Eastern European countries, including 800 outbreaks in Romania, and pig farmers in the UK, France and Germany are on high alert.
This disease is airborne, foodborne and transmissible between wild and domestic swine.
We must now urgently work with farmers and veterinarians to protect the rest of Europe from a serious threat to livestock and livelihoods.
Supported by the animal health sector and public agencies, they can help stop ASF from spreading, and implement measures to lower the likelihood of future outbreaks.
The first step we must take is to introduce strict biosecurity measures to limit the risk of contamination to our pig production. This means controlling any opportunity for the disease to come onto the farm from wild boars.
Measures range from building fences, having farm visitors disinfect their shoes and wearing protective clothing, to adapted hygiene practices and regular health checks.
We should also be proactive about training farmers and connecting them with veterinarians.
Learning about disease control and rigorous biosecurity measures in the face of an epidemic of ASF will be too late. We must raise awareness of good practices well in advance to stop it from ever happening.
And in the unfortunate event an animal does become infected, early detection is instrumental in anticipating a wider threat.
Finally, we can support farmers who raise pigs indoors, which helps protect the animals from contracting diseases from wild animals or environmental factors.
Farmers face public pressure to keep animals outdoors because it is often seen as more natural and wholesome, but it also puts animals at risk of greater risk of disease.
Indoor farming may not carry the same bucolic image, but keeping animals in controlled conditions is an effective way of protecting them from the risk of illness in the same way we might keep vulnerable children indoors when air pollution levels are high.
The ideal scenario would be a vaccine is developed against ASF, and research is underway. But until then, and to safeguard against diseases with no vaccine, preventative measures through good biosecurity are our best hope.