African swine fever has spread to several southern Chinese provinces, with severe and swift outbreaks that have led to the culling of scores of pigs in a country that is considered to be the world’s largest consumer and producer of pork.
The virus is extremely deadly to pigs, killing almost every animal that contracts it. However, there is no known health risk to humans from direct contact with diseased animals or from eating food made from infected animals.
The virus has now spread to Guangzhou City in Guangdong Province—the southernmost province on the mainland (China also lays claim to Hainan Island, which sits south of Guangdong Province).
According to a Dec. 25 article by Hong Kong media Apple Daily, local authorities in Guangzhou culled more than 6,000 pigs at a farm in Huangpu District, after local authorities temporarily put the owner of the farm and her dozen employees under house arrest at an unknown hotel. They were presumably detained to prevent the case from being publicly revealed.
Apple Daily journalists reported seeing workers with face masks operating manning excavators in Huangpu District, trying to bury the culled pigs. The intense stench of the dead pigs could be detected a few dozen meters away.
The female farm owner, a retired soldier who wasn’t identified, had recently purchased the 6,000 pigs from the nearby Guangxi region. It was determined that these pigs were infected with the virus because some of them had already died by the time they were shipped to her farm.
According to Apple Daily, the latest case in Guangzhou places the number of Chinese provinces, municipalities, and regions with known cases of the African swine fever at 23, with a total of 101 reported cases.
Guangzhou isn’t the only city in Guangdong affected by the outbreak. According to Taiwanese media, 11 pigs died from the disease at a farm in Zhuhai City. And on Dec. 25, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said that at a pig farm in Huizhou City, 11 pigs died from the disease, while 11 others had been infected.
Chinese media also reported that a local food shipping company had been directed by the provincial government of Guangdong that all cross-city shipment of live pigs would be banned.
In nearby Fujian Province, the cities of Nanping and Sanming have recently reported cases of the outbreak, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency. At Sanming, 27 pigs reportedly died from the disease at a pig farm, with 27 others showing symptoms.
China has culled more than 630,000 pigs across the country since the outbreak was first reported in early August, the provincial government in northern China’s Hebei Province said during a press conference on Dec. 7.
Lai Shiow-suey, emeritus professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Taiwan’s prestigious National Taiwan University, said China could be underreporting the number of outbreak cases, given that there are roughly 430 million pigs in China. According to his estimation, the possible number of pigs infected could be well over 100 million, he told the Liberty Times newspaper on Dec. 22.
Lai added that China had made a mistake by buying pork imports from Russia instead of buying from the United States—owing to self-imposed tariffs enacted amid the Sino-U.S. trade war. He explained that the genetic sequence of the virus found in infected pigs in Shenyang City—the capital of northern China’s Liaoning Province, where China’s first case of African swine fever was reported—was nearly identical to those found in Russia and Poland.
In August, the scientific journal Science also reported the same genetic resemblance, which led the journal to conclude that the disease likely spread to China through meat imported from Russia.