African swine fever (ASF) control in EU through “ONE Health Strategy”: a new approach based on Communication & Networking

African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious and lethal viral disease. The disease was firstly reported in Africa, and now is endemic in almost all continents. It is listed among the highest impact diseases according to WOAH list, and as category A disease according to EU Regulations. The epidemiology of ASF is very complex and involves the sylvatic environment (wild boar habitat). In case of ASF infection, the resulted severe economic losses are not attributed to animal losses only, but there are also additional compulsory culling and international trade constraints.

The Role of Wildlife in Disease Epidemiology

The importance of involving wild animals’ epidemiology has been considered by public veterinary health services since 1920 when unexpected outbreaks of rinderpest occurred in Belgium due to wild ungulates came from India and transited via the port of Antwerp. Recently, zoonotic epidemics (Avian influenza, SARS, COVID 19, West Nile Disease, etc) amplify the importance to monitor and control wild animals for animal and human health.

Regulatory Evolution and Wild Animal Management

The supranational Veterinary Institution (WOAH/founded as oie, World Organization for Animal Health) issued a list of non-domestic species that could transmit, amplify and maintain endemic or exotic diseases in animal and human populations such as Rabies, ASF, Foot and Mouth disease, Avian influenza, TB, Brucella…. ect. Regarding European Union, in 1992 the seven founding member states of European Union issued the Directive 92/65/CEE, listing different wild animal species (including reptiles, amphibians, marine mammals) and associated pathogens/diseases.

ASF and the Wild Boar Challenge in Europe

Since 2014, European countries have witnessed re-emergence of ASF, serotype 2 ASF virus, coming from East Europe. Majority of these new outbreaks were recorded in wild boars than domestic pigs, and characterized by its very aggressive and contagious nature, and high mortality rate both in wild and domestic pig populations. So, wild boar population represents the main risk factor of the current epidemics of ASF in Europe.

Shifting Responsibilities to Veterinary Services

The current strategy to mitigate, control or eradicate ASF epidemics is based on the WOAH Terrestrial code models and (for Europe) latest EU Regulation, particularly all Delegated and Implemented acts coming from Animal Health Law (AHL, Reg. CE 2016/429). AHL assigns the task of management and control of all wild species to the Public Veterinary Authority. This extension in area of management by Local Veterinary Authority and the necessary wider competence covering wild animals “epidemiology and ecology” are now officially regulated by laws.

The Critical Role of Multidisciplinary Cooperation

The answers for these raised fears and questions comes in Article 43 of Regulation (EU) 2016/429 which requires the competent authority to establish an operational expert group as part of the contingency plans. These contingency plans are designed to ensure a high level of disease awareness and preparedness, and to provide a rapid response in case of an outbreak of any of category A diseases.

Hunters as Key Stakeholders in Disease Management

It was surprising to involve hunters among stakeholders in the strategy for wild animals’ population control. Because animal protectionists always considered hunters as a great risk for biodiversity, but according to the guidelines of the new EU regulations, hunters become active partners in control of wild animals’ populations cooperation with them is essential.

The Evolving Role of Veterinary Services

In conclusion, veterinary services have great responsibility (certified by law). Local Veterinary Authority (LVA) becomes the reference actor and decision maker to apply veterinary measures, overcoming political administrators (majors) previously in charge of the executive power also in the sanitary sector. LVA must be prepared and roles must be defined. The needed measures to monitor/control ASF in wild boars (or other listed pathogens affecting wild animals) are very different and much more demanding, even economically, than those to be applied in livestock farming and must involve different (non-veterinary) stakeholders.

“Communication does not end in the passage of information, but is the resource that allows us to create relationships and collaborations. communication competence must be managed with care and maintained over time”

1Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Sicilia “A. Mirri”, Palermo, Italy

2STOR REMESA, Palermo, Italy   

References

1.      Commission Notice on the guidelines on the prevention, control and eradication of African swine fever in the Union (ASF guidelines) C/2023/7855 ISSN 1977-091X (electronic edition)

2.      Council Directive 92/65/EEC of 13 July 1992 laying down animal health requirements governing trade in and imports into the Community of animals, semen, ova and embryos not subject to animal health requirements laid down in specific Community rules referred to in Annex A (I) to Directive 90/425/EEC

3.      Regulation (EU) 2016/429 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016 on transmissible animal diseases and amending and repealing certain acts in the area of animal health (‘Animal Health Law’) (Text with EEA relevance). Off. J. Eur. Communities 2016, L84, 1–208.

4.      Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2020/687 of 17 December 2019 supplementing Regulation (EU) 2016/429 of the European Parliament and the Council, as regards rules for the prevention and control of certain listed diseases (Text with EEA relevance) (Text with EEA relevance)supplementing Regulation (EU) 2016/429 of the European Parliament and of the Council, as regards animal health requirements for movements within the Union of terrestrial animals and hatching eggs (Text with EEA relevance) (Text with EEA relevance). Off. J. Eur. Communities 2019, L174, 140–210.

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