African swine fever (ASF) has reached the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture has confirmed.
A contagious disease, African swine fever affects only pigs and wild boars. Some of its symptoms are high fever, loss of appetite, and internal bleeding. Afflicted pigs die within a few weeks, and there is no known cure or vaccine for it as of yet. Humans are not at risk of getting infected by the disease.
The announcement comes after a significant number of pigs in certain parts of the country died in August.
On Monday, September 9, 2019, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a briefing that most of the tissue samples (14 out of 20 samples, according to Wikipedia) that were sent for testing to laboratories in the United Kingdom were positive for ASF.
The areas affected by African swine fever in the Philippines so far are: San Jose, Macabud, San Isidro, San Rafel, and Mascap in Rizal; Cupang in Antipolo; and Guiguinto in Bulacan. It is not yet confirmed, however, which strand of ASF it is.
For its part, the Agriculture Department has culled and put under quarantine around 7,400 pigs within a one-kilometer radius of the affected areas to prevent the virus from spreading further.
While the Department of Health (DOH) has assured the public that African swine fever is not a threat to human health, you also do not want to eat pork tainted with the virus. Here are a few things you can do to avoid it:
1. Buy meat only from reliable merchants.
Meat products are inspected by the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to ensure quality and safety for human consumption. Consumers are encouraged to check two things before buying meat: a) that the meat bears the NMIS stamp, and b) that the vendor has an NMIS certification which includes the hour the animal was slaughtered. In a 2018 advisory through the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Maria Liz Calunsag of the NMIS said that meat displayed outside a temperature-controlled counter (such as in a wet market) would only last for eight hours at most before spoiling.
2. Cook meat thoroughly.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the African swine fever virus “can remain viable for many months in frozen and certain types of processed meat. Cooking at 60C° for 30 minutes inactivates the virus.”
3. Refrain from bringing in meat products from affected countries.
In an effort to prevent the entry of the African swine fever virus to the Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration in September 2018 issued a ban on processed pork meat products from several countries that are suspected to be affected by the virus, and expanded the list in July 2019.
But even with the confirmation of the presence of the virus in the country, it is still prudent to refrain from bringing in canned and other processed meat products from the following countries / territories: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, Vietnam, Zambia, Hong Kong, Germany, Laos, and North Korea.
“Filipinos should only consume processed pork meat products that are sourced from countries other than those suspected to be affected by the virus and are registered with the FDA,” said Enrique Domingo, FDA officer-in-charge.
4. If you are a hog raiser, stop “swill feeding.”
Swill feeding, or the practice of feeding hogs with food waste from sea vessels, airlines, hotels, restaurants, and public markets, is suspected to be the means through which the virus entered the Philippines. DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III also advised hog raisers not to feed pigs raw or undercooked pork.
Nonetheless, Secretary Duque assured the public that there is no need to worry about consuming pork. Through a statement, he said, “We want to allay the fears of the public by saying that, as long as pork is bought from reliable sources and it is cooked thoroughly, pork is safe to eat.”