Piglets are housed in a piggery in a pig farm in the Yiyang district of Henan province in early August. (1
96599002) Chinese officials are fighting to stop a fatal outbreak of African swine fever that could decimate the country's pig population.
Since the beginning of August, the virus has spread in four provinces at a distance of about 745 miles. The burgeoning epidemic could endanger the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of sow farmers and endanger China's enormous pork industry. China has about 700 million pigs, half of the world's population. Pork is the country's main source of protein.
If China can not quickly contain the virus, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned that it could hit the Korean Peninsula and Southeast Asia, leading to a Europe-wide crisis.
"It can be very, very difficult to fight this epidemic in China," said Young S. Lyoo, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Konkuk University. "And as soon as it spreads to Asian countries, we could have great social chaos and instability."
African swine fever does not affect humans. But it is extremely deadly to pigs – the most virulent strains of the virus kill nearly 100 percent of infected sows. There is no vaccine or treatment and the virus is hard to eradicate. The resilient virus can survive for several weeks in cold or warm weather, living in pigmeat products, in slaughterhouses and on the back of trucks transporting pigs
Juan Lubroth, senior veterinary officer of the UN agency based in Rome, is against panic , said it was "too early to tell" how far the virus had spread and what its effects were. But he also urged Asia, "to prepare for an invasion."
China's first African pig fever cases appeared in early August in Liaoning Province. In the following weeks, officials said the disease had spread to the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Heilongjiang. In response, the Chinese authorities have spread throughout the country. So far, they have screened an estimated 24,000 animals according to the U.N. Agency.
Local animal health officials were tasked with providing information on the disease to the country's pig farmers. The government offered a $ 117 grant to every pig infected with the virus.
But reaching hundreds of industry experts is a big challenge. China's pig farms range from huge industrial processing plants to small family businesses. In addition, Chinese farmers have no experience with African swine fever, Lyoo said. So they can not immediately notice any disturbing signs.
African swine fever has been endemic to Africa for a century. More recently there have been outbreaks in Europe and South America. Russia has been fighting the epidemic for a decade and has lost nearly a million swine to the virus. Experts say that the burden spreading in China is similar to that in Russia, Georgia and Estonia, according to the U.N. Agency.
Already, pig prices have declined, especially in northeastern China.
"I think there is panic in the market, especially among the pig farmers, when the outbreak can be stabilized," said Zhu Zengyong Associate Researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
But he said the consumers would probably not feel so much, at least now. "The impact will be much smaller for consumers," he said. "People will not catch swine while pork is still safe at high temperatures."
Amber Wang contributed to this report.
Today's coverage of post-correspondents around the world
How to keep Washington Post World on Facebook and up to date on foreign news