FILE - Mark Schipp, the President of World Organization for Animal Health briefs media in Sydney, Oct. 31, 2019, on the threat of African swine fever.
FILE - Mark Schipp, the President of World Organization for Animal Health briefs media in Sydney, Oct. 31, 2019, on the threat of African swine fever.

SYDNEY - Australian scientists say it could be another five years before a vaccine is developed to protect pigs from African swine fever.  It is estimated that a quarter of the world's pig population has died this year, following the deadly outbreak of the virus in China. 

African swine fever, or ASF, has yet to reach Australia, but it is close.  The virus has been spreading rapidly through Asia, and outbreaks have been reported in East Timor, one of Australia’s closest neighbors.

FILE - Pigs are pictured at a farm on the outskirts of Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan province, Nov. 30, 2011.
Hong Kong Reports a Case of African Swine Fever
A case of African swine fever has been detected in a Hong Kong slaughterhouse, prompting the culling of all 6,000 pigs at the facility. Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said in a statement Friday that the incurable virus was found in a single pig imported from a farm in Guangdong province in mainland China, where the monthslong outbreak has devastated herds. Pork is China’s staple meat and its price and availability is considered a matter of national concern.

The disease is devastating pig populations in several countries.  It is highly contagious and there is no cure.

Scientists have been working on a vaccine for 60 years, but because the African swine fever virus is so large and complex it is an immense task.

At the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in the state of Victoria researchers are hopeful of a breakthrough, but concede an effective treatment for ASF could be at least five years away.

FILE - A poster on African swine fever is seen outside a farm after the outbreak of the disease in Fangshan district of Beijing, China, Nov. 23, 2018.
China Reports Outbreak of African Swine Fever in Hunan
China has reported a new outbreak of African swine fever that is threatening the country’s vital pork industry. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs reported Friday that the disease had been detected on a farm in Yongzhou in the central province of Hunan, where 4,600 pigs were being raised. Although 171 of the pigs had died and 270 were found sick, ministry regulations require all pigs on an affected farm be culled and disposed of and the area quarantined and decontaminated. 1 million pigs…

The laboratory’s director is Dr Trevor Drew.

“I do not think I really expected African swine fever to spread with such ferocity," said Drew.  "I think we will not be able to control African swine fever until there is a vaccine available.”

Without a vaccine, Australia will rely on traditional methods of disease control should ASF reach its shores.  Infected pigs would be culled, their carcasses buried and farms disinfected.

Australia’s multi-million dollar pork industry includes about 2,700 producers, which employ 34,000 people.

Workers in protective suits are seen by a truck at a plant of pork processor Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development, a subsidiary of WH Group, following a discovery of pigs infected by the African swine fever, in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, Aug. 17, 2
US Halts Polish Pork Imports Over African Swine Fever
The United States suspended imports of pork from Poland Thursday because of an outbreak of the highly contagious hog disease African swine fever in that country. African swine fever has spread rapidly in Eastern Europe and China, the world's largest pork producer, where new cases are appearing and the disease is traveling far distances. The United States is free of the disease and eager to keep it that way because infections in U.S.

There are concerns the disease could spread through Australia's large feral pig population.  It numbers about 25 million, and the animals are spread across almost half the country.

Scientists say the most likely way ASF could enter Australia is through infected pork products that are then fed to pigs.

Under new bio-security laws, Australia is deporting tourists who fail to declare illegal pork products.