The spread of African swine fever has hit China hard, which has half of the world's hog population. Photo: Xinhua

Animal health researchers in China claim to have isolated a strain of African swine fever (ASF) virus, paving the way for a vaccine that may one day stem the spread of the hemorrhagic fever with high mortality rates in pigs. The virus has wreaked havoc on the global pork industry since 2018.

The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology noted last week that the new technology would focusing on the “live” vaccination, as well as the origins of the highly transmissible virus and how it spreads.

The scientists, from Harbin Veterinary Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, hope to be taking the first step towards the production of a commercially viable vaccine.

A sample was taken from the spleen of a pig at a farm in the province of Heilongjiang, where an outbreak of the disease was reported in September.

Studies of earlier outbreaks suggested that swine fever could be transmitted through contaminated feces and through the air. But the Harbin institute team found that blood may have played a role in transmission in last year’s outbreaks. Still, it was not known if outbreaks were caused by a single strain or multiple strains of the virus.

The quest for a vaccine has been going on for decades, and the African swine fever virus is the largest virus known to man; while a typical virus might contain 10 or 12 proteins, the ASF virus has over 150 proteins.

Experts say the situation is complicated by scores of different strains of the disease and a successful vaccine is thought to be a long way off, with some scientists expressing the thought that at least a decade will be needed before the complex task can be achieved.

Meanwhile, China’s agriculture ministry has confirmed new cases of ASF in the country’s northwestern Gansu province. The outbreak occurred last week on a farm with 190 live pigs in the city of Lanzhou, infecting 143 of the animals and killing 37.

Since August, China has already reported around 100 outbreaks of the disease in 24 provinces and cities. The disease is deadly to hogs but does not affect humans.

Brownfield Ag News in the US also reported that the future vaccine would have to be cultured in large quantities, studied for immune reactions, and tested for safety before mass adoption.

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