Exact cause of disease’s spread to both facilities not ascertained yet; losses to the tune of Rs 6-7 lakh incurred
UPDATE: This story was first published on the DTE website on September 2, 2022. It has been updated to include some corrections in the text
The African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak has now hit the bio-secure environment of the Assam government’s pig-breeding farm and the ICAR-National Research Centre on Pig (NRCP), both in Guwahati. This has resulted in the death of 3 pigs and culling of approximately 292 in the last two weeks, different government officials confirmed to Down To Earth.
The virus was first reported in three pigs in the state government-run breeding farm in Guwahati’s Khanapara area, after their samples were sent to North Eastern Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Guwahati.
It is unclear how the virus entered the facility but this points to lapses in bio-security measures.
Read Down To Earth’s coverage of the African Swine Fever outbreak in India
Farm manager Hiren Deka confirmed that the rest of the 42 pigs on the farm were culled by the state government after three were found to be positive for the virus. The three pigs died August 18, 2022 and the rest were culled August 27, Deka said, adding the pigs at the ICAR centre were culled August 30.
“After this, 12 sick pigs were also reported from the ICAR (Indian Agricultural Research Institute) campus and isolated. Of the 12, two were found positive, following which the entire pig population was culled. About 250 were culled by the state government,” VK Gupta, director, ICAR-NRCP.
“The ICAR-NRCP had first asked our permission to exempt their pigs from culling. But after cases were found there, all the population within a kilometre had to be wiped out,” Praveen Malik, commissioner, department of animal husbandry and dairying, Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, said.
According to the National Action Plan for control, containment and eradication of ASF, all pigs within a kilometre radius of the infected zone will be humanely culled, whether or not they currently show signs of the disease.
ASF is a highly contagious and viral haemorrhagic disease that is known to infect pigs and wild boar, with a near 100 per cent fatality rate.
It is transmitted through direct and indirect contacts, ingestion of contaminated feedstuffs and by certain tick vector species. Infected animals develop fever and their skin turns purple, with watery discharge from the eyes and severe, bloody diarrhoea before death.
The pig breeding farm boasted of Yorkshire and Hampshire breeds. The ICAR centre had developed improved strains of crossbred pigs for superior performance. The breeds maintained at the ICAR centre included Duroc, Gungroo, Meghalaya and Nagaland local pigs, apart from the Yorkshire and Hampshire pigs.
In the last two years of the outbreak, the ICAR centre has been conducting awareness and training programmes for pig farmers on the required bio-security measures to prevent ASF.
Deka said the economic loss in terms of cost of breeding stock is to the tune of Rs 6-7 lakh. However, the exact cause of the spread of the virus to the two facilities has not been ascertained yet.
“There have been cases of swine deaths nearby but since it is a bio-secure facility, we are trying to find the cause,” he said.
Gupta was of the view that the disease first spread to the farm and since the ICAR centre and the farm share a common boundary, it then infected the pigs at the ICAR centre as well.
R Thomas, senior scientist, ICAR-NRCP, told Down To Earth, “Everything was okay for almost 2-2.5 years but it is practically an endemic area and we have around 21 workers who go home and come back. So, probably some lapses have happened, even though people maintain all bio-security practices.”
But scientists are hopeful that they will repopulate the centre soon. “We have distributed the pigs to farmers in the fields and soon we will develop the same breeds,” Gupta said.
India does not have a history of ASF, though the disease was first described almost a century ago. India reported its first outbreak to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in May 2020, with cases reported from Arunachal Pradesh and then Assam.
It has since spread across the country, with recent cases being reported from states like Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Punjab.
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