Virologist warns swine fever could mutate to threaten humans

If the spread of African swine fever (ASF) is not contained in good time, the virus that is causing wild boar and domestic pigs to die could possibly mutate and become dangerous to humans, Īrisa Kalniņa, one of Latvia’s leading virologists told LTV news program Panorāma Thursday.

The infectuous disease expert spoke out strongly against the public’s sometimes reckless disregard for the monitoring and quarantine measures put into place by state veterinary health authorities in the state-of-emergency territories declared by the government so far.

“ASF is not dangerous now, but it only takes a coincidental combination of conditions for it to become so, and then it’s just a matter of it starting to proliferate,” Kalniņa said.

There are plenty of precedents for a virus to adapt to a new carrier, such as forms of bird flu, however Kalniņa explained that the genome for the ASF virus is more stable, meaning that while mutations could be less likely to develop, they could certainly not be ruled out.

As a citizen I am simply upset by the reckless disregard of our own people in dealing with this infection, just because they think it’s not going to be dangerous to humans

“There are no guarantees that such a virus population doesn’t already exist among these ASF viruses, therefore some rarer strains could actually develop the ability to jump the species barrier. As a citizen I am simply upset by the reckless disregard of our own people in dealing with this infection, just because they think it’s not going to be dangerous to humans,” she said.

Kalniņa also warned that these sorts of hemorrhagic fevers have also been jumping what were previously thought to be climatic zone barriers, meaning that they can become endemic in areas where they might otherwise never be expected to appear.

Thus the hot late summer and people’s growing penchant to travel and move around are the two main factors explaining why otherwise exotic-seeming viral diseases are spreading to places like Latvia and the rest of Europe.

Meanwhile, registered pig farmers and licensed hunters throughout Latvia were preparing for the possibility that ASF might reach their districts, anticipating what they will need to do when the ‘X hour’ arrives. Residents of western coastal Kurzeme are especially worried at the flood of Lithuanian and Polish tourists with all of their vehicles crossing into Latvia for the beach-going season.

With the help of the State Road Police, veterinary health authorities detained a vehicle in Latgale Friday, whose driver was attempting to transport sixteen unregistered piglets between Daugavpils and Rezekne.

Otherwise, with attention focused on the mass pilgrimage taking place at the Aglona basilica since Thursday, which is located in the heart of the state-of-emergency zone, Food and Veterinary Service southern Latgale department head Antons Lazdāns told Latvian Radio that no major incidents have been noted amongst the thronging worshippers at the holy shrine.

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