Thousands of pigs in China have been dying since August 2018. The cause is a virus that infects a pig’s macrophages, a type of white blood cell that acts as a warrior against disease-causing invaders. This viral disease, called African swine fever, can wreak havoc in a pig’s body causing internal bleeding and resulting in almost 100 percent mortality of the infected pigs. Because African swine fever is highly contagious and deadly to pigs, economies and the food supply are being affected around the world. (The virus does not infect humans.) For instance, with 500 million pigs, representing half of the world’s pig population, China leads in global pork production. And now their pork is banned for export. African swine fever has never been found in the United States.
The disease has been on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) radar for several years. S&T intensified vaccine research efforts in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in November 2018. The African Swine Fever Task Force was born, based out of S&T’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC).