Each year about 1 million dogs arrive in the U.S., imported from other countries, according to 2019 estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although more recent data are not available, it’s likely that even more dogs entered the country during the COVID pandemic, when there was an increased demand for pets and shelters were emptied.
Surprisingly, the importation of dogs carries the risk of introducing a devastating swine virus, African Swine Fever (ASF), into the United States. Although dogs cannot become sick with ASF, they can shed the virus after consuming infected pork. And in countries with ASF, dogs are very likely to have eaten infected pork products. These dogs can also carry the virus on their fur or bedding.
For these reasons, effective August 16, 2021, the USDA requires importers of dogs to complete additional security steps if the dogs come from a region where ASF exists. The steps include microchipping every dog, bathing the dog within 48 hours of entry into the US, and properly disposing of all bedding the dog is shipped in.
Why are these precautions important? ASF poses no risk to human health. It is deadly in swine herds, however, and an outbreak would be devastating to the US economy.
According to Dr. Jim Lowe, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, “If ASF is identified in any pig within the US, that will immediately shutdown any and all exportation of pork internationally.”
Some studies suggest such an outbreak could affect the US economy by as much as $50 billion. That’s why regulatory agencies and pork producers are scrambling to keep ASF at bay.
Unfortunately, the virus is extremely hardy.
“ASF survives in cooked and cured meat,” explains Dr. Lowe. “Most viruses die when the host--in this case, the pig--dies. But not ASF. When the host dies, the virus can live in cooked meat and even in dry sausages like pepperoni for years.”
In many countries, sausages or other pork products are exchanged in the winter months in celebration of holidays. This cultural practice can fuel the spread of ASF because pigs, like dogs, are often fed infected scraps.
As the ASF outbreak evolves, we will likely see increased measures to protect the nation’s swine industry as well as the US economy. Stay tuned for more news, and check out our podcast for additional information.
Link to Podcast: https://online.vetmed.illinois.edu/the-round-barn-podcast
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