GIFU – Japan’s swine fever epidemic is spreading further with a sixth case identified Tuesday in the central part of the country, leading to the first dispatch of Ground Self-Defense Force troops and the launch of a crisis control unit by the central government.
After tests confirmed the latest case of the contagious disease at a pig farm in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, the local government began culling 7,547 pigs. About 1,600 GSDF troops dispatched at the request of Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta will bury the culled animals.
Swine fever, which has a high fatality rate, was detected at a farm in the city of Gifu in September for the first time since 1992, and has been found in wild boars in both Gifu and Aichi prefectures. It does not affect humans even if an infected animal is consumed.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the central and local governments “have been making all-out efforts to prevent the infections from spreading.”
Three farms with a total of 1,800 pigs located within 10 kilometers of the affected farm in Seki were banned from shipping their pigs. Meat processing facilities in the city also halted operations.
At the farm hit by the latest outbreak, Gifu government officials in white protective gear were seen digging holes to bury carcasses, and disinfecting themselves around pigpens.
A pig showing signs of infection was found in a test prior to shipment Sunday at the farm, and together with a second tested positive on Tuesday, according to the Gifu government.
In Gifu, which kept around 106,000 pigs at 40 farms and research institutions as of Feb. 1 this year, a series of swine fever infections have been reported including at public facilities.
“We don’t know what to do until the cause of the outbreak is identified,” a member of a local pig farmers’ association said.
The Gifu Prefectural Assembly has adopted a statement calling on the central government to study vaccinating pigs against the disease. But the farm ministry remains reluctant because it would affect the country’s pork exports.
The association member urged the ministry to change its stance, saying local pig farmers are “strongly demanding” vaccination.
As wild boars are suspected to be the source of infection, Masuo Sueyoshi, head of the University of Miyazaki’s Division of Prevention and Control for Animal Diseases, said control of such animals should be tightened.
“In addition to trapping, steps should be taken such as placing food containing vaccines along trails” frequented by wild boars, he said.
Prior to this year’s outbreak, Japan had only seen swine fever in 1992 when five pigs were infected. The government had declared the virus eradicated in 2007.