By Stan Maddux
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – One half of all pigs in China were lost a few years ago to African swine fever (ASF), which later reemerged too close to the United States for comfort.
As a result, developing a rapid test out in the field to prevent similar devastation to the pork industry in the United States has received a $1 million shot in the arm.
The grant was awarded to researchers at Purdue University to further their efforts in developing a rapid test that can be given to pigs inside their pens.
The money contained in the most recent U.S. Farm Bill was provided by The National Animal Laboratory Network and the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program.
Mohit Verma, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue, is leading the research.
“It’s a devastating disease and hours, even minutes, matter in containing it. It shows how seriously the U.S. is taking the risk from African swine fever,” he said.
The alert button was pushed when ASF was confirmed last summer in the Dominican Republic.
It’s the first time the disease has been detected in Central America, North America or South America in decades, said Paul Ebner, professor of animal sciences at Purdue.
“African swine fever infections can lead to 100-percent mortality on a pig farm and there is no treatment,” he said.
Verma and other Purdue scientists are working to create a portable paper-strip test for the disease. The goal is have results in less than 30 minutes. The results would be known through an easy-to-see color change on the paper strip.
“The ease of use, test timing and size are similar to those of an at-home pregnancy test or COVID-19 test,” he said.
A saliva or blood sample mixed with primers and reagents would be gently heated. The paper strip inside could change colors if ASF DNA is present.
“We want the test to be easy for farmers and veterinarians and for the pigs. Our hope is to create something affordable and accessible that could be broadly used in the U.S. and throughout the world,” Verma said.
A positive test, after it was reported to the proper authorities, would trigger efforts to contain the disease to the infected farm.
Ebner worked with veterinarians in the Dominican Republic to create an online tool to assist farmers in preventing the disease.
The tool, BioPork-RD, allows farmers to assess their operations for determining the risk of ASF coming to their farms.
Users are guided by the tool through a variety of biosecurity practices. Points are awarded on what farmers are doing already to determine risk and how effective those measures are in preventing infection.
Other things that should be done are also identified in the assessment.
“Importantly, at each step, BioPorc-RD explains why the practice is important and how to do the practice,” Ebner said.
“We want to help pig farmers understand the reasoning behind each of the biosecurity practices and how to implement them at their own farm,” he said.
Ebner said some of the necessary changes cost money but it’s cheaper than losing a pig population. “Biosecurity is an investment to protect your farm and income,” he said.
According to USDA, pork and pork products from an infected country like the Dominican Republic are subject to import restrictions designed to reduce the risk of spread to the United States.
In 1978, the whole swine population in the Dominican Republica was slaughtered due to ASF.
However, the country did not have many measures in place to prevent another infection of ASF until the recent development of the online risk assessment.
“The tool is very useful since it focuses on all key points to prevent the entry of ASF into the farm. It makes us aware of how vulnerable we can be if we do not take the appropriate measures,” said Daniel Rivas, a swine veterinarian working in the Dominican Republic and user of the tool.