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Amid COVID-19, Assam battles African Swine Fever


Guwahati, May 5 2020 - As India continues its all-out fight against the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic, the Assam government finds itself battling on an additional front: the contagious African Swine Fever (AFS), which has so far killed around 3,000 pigs in the state, ministers and officials said on Tuesday.

Officials of Assam's Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department said this is for the first time that due to the massive outbreak of AFS, over 2,905 pigs have died so far in six districts. According to the census in 2019, Assam's pig population was around 21 lakh, which by now might have gone up to around 30 lakh.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has directed officials of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary and Forest Departments to work with the National Pig Research Centre of ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) and draw an effective roadmap to curb the pigs' deaths.

Sonowal has asked workers and officials, including doctors and other functionaries, to ensure cleanliness and total sanitization of the pig inhabitable areas and use disinfectants.

Animal Husbandry and Veterinary and Agriculture Minister Atul Bora, while talking to the media, said his department has been working for several weeks to deal with the highly infectious AFS disease, whose mortality rate is very high -- 90 to 100 per cent.

"We have already taken a series of steps, including creation of containment zones, within one km radius of an infected area and surveillance zone within 10 km, to prevent spread of the virus to other adjoining districts. We have formed a committee with officials, experts, specialists and pig farmers and are working according to their advices," the Minister said.

Despite the Central government's advices, the Minister said as of now, the department did not have any plans to cull the pigs.

Northeast Progressive Pig Farmers' Association's founding President Manoj Basumatary, who is himself a pig farmer, said the pig farmers had been severely affected, first by COVID-19 pandemic and now by AFS. Due to the ASF, hundreds of pigs' deaths were reported from the Dhemaji, North Lakhimpur, Biswanath, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and Jorhat districts of Assam and in West Kameng, Papum-Pare, Lower Siang, Upper Siang, East Siang, Lohit, Lepa-Rada, Namsai, Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

Because of the outbreak of ASF in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, all the state governments in the North-East have sounded a high alert and asked people, especially owners of piggeries, to refrain from bringing pigs from other states.

Animal resource experts in northeast India suspect that the highly contagious ASF came to the region from Tibet in China through Arunachal Pradesh. The annual pork business of the northeast is worth around Rs 8,000-10,000 crore with Assam being the largest supplier. Pork is one of the most common and popular meats consumed by both tribals and non-tribals in the northeastern states.

According to the animal resource experts, the pigs generally are affected by the Classical Fever, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) besides the ASF.

The AFS was first detected in 1921 in Kenya. No vaccines or medicines have been discovered so far. According to some experts, human beings do not get infected by the AFS, but they could be the carriers of the virus.


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