Technically, African swine flu is not flu. In Burmese, it’s called severe fever. Flu viruses spread rapidly but this virus spreads slowly and is difficult to contract.
- Director-General Dr Ye Tun Win
Recently, large number of pigs have been dying in Tachilek and Mongla districts of Shan State. The following is an interview with Dr Ye Tun Win, Director-General of the Livestock Breeding & Veterinary Department, on his department’s response to the situation and general questions on swine-related viruses.
Q: It is known that there has been mass death of pigs in Tachilek district and Mongla township. I would like to know what is being done about that.
A: we were informed that there was mass death of pigs in in Mongla. We have a sub office there. It was informed to us that the official in Mongla were given instruction to examine whether it is African swine flu. It has also been instructed not to import pig and pork products. The instruction has been given to dispose of the carcasses in case of death.
A special team from our department has been sent to that area to examine that. The team is working towards obtaining samples from pig sties in Mongla. We have not yet received the samples. On the arrival of the samples we will examine if it is African swine flu. It will be announced to the public if it happen to be ASF.
A team of experts was sent to the area this morning. They will conduct field observation on the condition of pig sties of the region and collect samples.
Only laboratory can determine whether it is ASF. We were informed it is occurring in Special Region 2 and 4. Experts has been send to the regions to examine.
We were also informed that some pigs are sick in Tachilek. Livestock breeding and veterinary department of Shan State is now leading the examination of suspected areas there.
There have been new stories about it. It was written 1,000 or 2,000 pigs died showing photos. They, in fact, wrote based on what they have heard. But the investigation into that showed they use photos of occurrence in China for news story. It was also found out that a photo of occurrence in Laos was used for news about Tachilek pig sickness.
Our teams are conducting field investigations. During those we were informed that they were about 100 sick pig in different places of the area. We have yet to see sick pig in flesh. With the result from examining sick pigs, we will confirm what disease it is.
It is not true that about 1000 of them died. Our field investigation suggested there has been about 100 death in three months’ period.
Q. What are the symptoms of the disease?
A: There are some factors I want to explain about it. This is average number of death whatever disease happens. The cause of death can diarrhea, cold or immune deficiency. The symptoms are similar. Therefore, only the result of the laboratory test is reliable. We are making special effort to do so.
The symptom, which are red spot on the body, diarrhea, vomit and trembling, are similar to those of other diseases common to pigs.
There teams have been sent to Tachilek and Mongla so far. They are two teams of experts and a local team. We have plan to send more because these regions are border areas and close to China and Laos. This also increases the chance of disease occurrence. The sample form carcasses cannot be used to determine the disease. As carcasses may have been infected with multiple diseases, this cannot produce specific result. We need sample from live ones.
Even though it is non-contagious to human, it should not be eaten. The waste can transmit disease. The reason is that pigs are usually fed kitchen waste. We are now education public on how harmful to pigs it can be. In case of having no choice, It should be cook to be sterilized.
What is different about this disease is that it can stay in frozen meat, bacons and sausages for a long time. This is the reason that frozen meat is not permitted to be imported from China. In case of death, the carcasses should be buried systematically. Even though the rate of infection if not high, once infected, there is strong chance of death. So far, there has been no vaccine or treatment.
As there is potential occurrence in border region, it is prevent at border gates and ports. This is an act of precaution. We have to be prepared and have plans in townships. The procedure for disease control and antiviral medications have been forwarded in case of outbreak.
Q: Has something similar to this occurred in Myanmar before?
A: The symptoms show similarities with other diseases so we’ll only if it’s occurred in Myanmar before after a lab test. That’s why we request you to report suspicious symptoms to our department and local authorities. We respond with immediate protection procedures after reviewing these reports.
Other swine flu has vaccinations so that’s why we vaccinate on pig farms. If a disease spreads even after taking these precautions then there is a higher chance it can be African swine flu. It has never occurred in Myanmar before though. We cannot verify if it is spreading here yet, but we must be vigilant all the same.
Q: People are also calling it swine flu now, so what is the difference?
A: Technically, African swine flu is not flu. In Burmese, it’s called severe fever. Flu viruses spread rapidly but this virus spreads slowly and is difficult to contract. And it’s not contagious to people. If it does spread, there’s a higher chance of death for pigs and that can negatively affect the pork livestock market.
Q: What preparations have been implemented to combat this virus?
A: We’ve arranged preparations since the virus first surfaced in our close neighbor, China, in 2018. We conducted awareness programs at all respective border gates and immigration checkpoints. We also handed out pamphlets stuck up posters. In addition, we conducted awareness programs in the native language of the region receiving them.
We have trained all our staff in the 330 township sub-departments on what procedures to follow when this virus appears. We have even practiced roleplays with them for practical learning.
We have conducted monitoring tasks in areas with high susceptibility to outbreaks. We have legally designated the virus from level B to level A. We have explained our procedures to local authorities and CSOs to ensure smooth operations. We have provided adequate training to laboratory staff in Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw to run tests on the virus.
We have banned pork and related products at the airports, especially in Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw. We confiscate and destroy any that are found. We had issued these warnings in advance. We will publish our findings for Tachilek and Mongla publicly as well.
Just last week, we held a short course on emergency response in case of a African swine flu outbreak. There have been times when we receive news of an outbreak but it has gone by the time we get there. We will establish a news network to relay this information faster. We were a little late for Tachilek. We came as soon as we heard the news but we couldn’t get a sample.
Q: Do you have anything else to tell the public?
A: African swine fever has been around for about 30 years now but it never spread very over there. Now it has spread to Asia which has a large livestock market so the chances of it spreading are higher. This virus doesn’t have a vaccine yet so we need to be careful. We must also administer vaccines for other viruses. Although it can’t spread to humans, we have restricted consumption of pork. It is important to establish a clean livestock rearing system to protect ourselves from this virus.
(Translated by Pen Dali)