Emergency pig disease: African swine fever (ASF)

Page last updated: Monday, 24 February 2020 - 2:03pm

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious virus that causes an often fatal disease in pigs and wild boar. The disease is similar to classical swine fever, but is caused by a different virus. Both diseases only affect pigs and are exotic to Australia. People are not affected by African swine fever or classical swine fever.

African swine fever could enter Australia by: illegally imported meat and dairy products being fed to pigs; illegally imported animals or genetic material; and people returning from overseas with the virus on their clothing, footwear or equipment.

Biosecurity alert

Historically, African swine fever has been endemic to Africa and Sardinia (Italy). However, in 2007 the disease spread to parts of the Caucasus and eastern Europe after wild boar accessed food waste from an international airport. Since 2016 the disease spread has escalated and African swine fever has been spreading rapidly throughout much of eastern Europe.

In August 2018 the first case of African swine fever was detected in China. China has the world's largest population of pigs and this has had a serious impact on their pig industry. This disease has now spread throughout South East Asia and poses a major threat to pig-producing countries, including Australia.

Testing by the federal Department of Agriculture in September 2019 on pork products seized at international airports and mail processing centres over a two-week period revealed that that 202 out of 418 (48%) of products tested were contaminated with African swine fever virus. Additionally, from November 2018 to November 2019, 34 tonnes of pork products were seized at Australian airports. These figures demonstrate the risk to Australia from the virus.

You can help to keep African swine fever out of Australia. Do not feed meat or products containing meat to pigs – this is illegal and can cause serious diseases including African swine fever.

Always report any unusual deaths in pigs, including feral pigs, or suspicion of African swine fever to to your private vet, local DPIRD vet or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on: 1800 675 888. Early detection increases our chances of eradicating the disease if it does occur here.

What would an outbreak mean?

Western Australia exports about 80% of its livestock and livestock products every year. African swine fever only affects pigs, but an outbreak could also impact other agricultural sectors and market access.

There is no vaccination for African swine fever and the death rate in pigs can reach 100%. If African swine fever became established in feral pig populations, it would be extremely difficult to eradicate the disease.

What can you do?

  • Reduce the risk of an outbreak:
  • Know the signs of African swine fever.
  • Immediately report any signs of African swine fever to a vet.

How does African swine fever spread?

The African swine fever virus is highly contagious and very resistant to physical and environmental factors. The virus can survive in the environment and in meat products for several months or longer under favourable conditions. African swine fever virus can also spread through blood, saliva, urine, semen, skins and hides, and manure of infected animals.

The virus spreads between animals by:

  • feeding pigs prohibited pig feeds (swill)
  • direct contact with an infected animal
  • movement of infected animals
  • movement of contaminated animal products (such as semen or manure), vehicles, equipment and people.

Animals usually show signs of African swine fever 4–19 days after being infected. Infected animals can shed the virus for up to two days before they show signs of the disease.

Signs of African swine fever

Signs of African swine fever vary depending on the strain of the virus. Highly virulent strains can cause death rates of up to 100%. Less virulent strains may have a lower number of deaths with non-specific signs.

Signs of African swine fever may include:

  • increased death rate
  • high fever and loss of appetite
  • skin reddening
  • blueness of extremities (including ears)
  • coughing and difficulty breathing
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • abortions.

Early reporting is key

Recognising and reporting African swine fever early so that we can contain the spread of the disease is the only way to reduce the enormous financial and social damage of an outbreak. If you see any of these disease signs, call:

More information

See our African swine fever resources page more information about biosecurity measures for preventing this disease.

Contact information

Sue Skirrow
+61 (0)8 9892 8490
Vanessa Rushworth
+61 (0)8 9368 3076