European Authorities Are Deploying Helicopters, Drones, and Sniffer Dogs To Halt the Swine Fever Pandemic
The race is on to contain it while it’s still possible
The new border fences stretch for hundreds of kilometers. Helicopters and drones circle overhead, scanning for sick individuals while biological samples are ferried to labs for analysis. As fatalities mount, soldiers scour wide areas, searching for corpses. Sniffer dogs have been trained to locate the dead.
This is not a nightmarish vision of what is to come during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the reality on the ground as Europe reckons with a deadly virus affecting wild boar and pigs.
The African Swine Fever (ASF) virus is a merciless killer. Nearly 100% of infected pigs die. There is no cure or commercially available vaccine. The virus was first detected in Kenya in 1921, and, having circulated ever more widely for decades, is now considered a pandemic by experts at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Since late 2018, ASF has caused havoc in China and has badly affected other countries in Asia, parts of Africa, and Western Europe. It is yet to reach North America, but experts are worried that it will continue its steady march across the globe, devastating ever more pig farms and raising the price of pork, a staple food for billions of people worldwide.
“Covid is fast and therefore also more dramatic,” says Dirk Pfeiffer, PhD, a veterinary epidemiologist at City University of Hong Kong. “Whereas this thing is slow and patient and it’ll get to most places of the world where you’ve got pigs.”
The turmoil unleashed by ASF has caused Pfeiffer and others to question whether the scale of global meat production is sustainable. Ultimately, they say, today’s industrialized farming systems must acknowledge their role in driving the spread of diseases like ASF.
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