Farmers have long contained its spread by quarantining and killing infected animals, but the disease’s devastating march into East Asia is intensifying the search for another solution.
The virus hadn’t been considered as high a priority for experts until it turned up last year in China, home to half the world’s pig population.
Since then, it has spread to other Asian countries including Vietnam, killing millions of pigs along the way. Though it does not sicken people, the disease is highly contagious and deadly to pigs.
“Today’s situation, where you have this global threat, puts a lot more emphasis on this research,” said Dr Luis Rodriguez, who leads the US government lab on foreign animal diseases at Plum Island, New York.
One way to develop a vaccine is to kill a virus before injecting it into an animal. The disabled virus will prompt the animal’s immune system to identify the virus and produce antibodies against it.
This approach, however, isn’t consistently effective with all viruses, including the one that causes African swine fever.
It’s why scientists have been working on another type of vaccine, made from a weakened virus rather than a dead one.
The Chinese government indicated scientists are working on a vaccine that genetically alters the virus, an approach US scientists have been pursuing as well.
The US Department of Agriculture said it recently signed an agreement with a vaccine manufacturer to further research and develop one of Plum Island’s three vaccine candidates.
The candidates were made by genetically modifying the virus to delete certain genes. — AP
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