Detection of African swine fever virus in the tissues of asymptomatic pigs in smallholder farming systems along the Kenya–Uganda border: implications for transmission in endemic areas and ASF surveillance in East Africa
The persistence of African swine fever virus (ASFV) in endemic areas, with small-scale but regular outbreaks in domestic pigs, is not well understood. ASFV has not been detected using conventional diagnosis in these pigs or adjacent populations of resistant African wild pigs, that could act as potential carriers during the outbreaks. However, such data are crucial for the design of evidence-based control strategies. We conducted cross-sectional (1107 pigs) and longitudinal (100 pigs) monitoring of ASFV prevalence in local pigs in Kenya and Uganda. The horizontal survey revealed no evidence of ASFV in the serum or blood using either conventional or real-time PCR. One pig consistently tested positive using ELISA, but negative using PCR assays on blood. Interestingly, the isotype of the antibodies from this animal were strongly IgA biased relative to control domestic pigs and warthogs, suggesting a role for mucosal immunity. The tissues from this pig were positive by PCR following post-mortem. Internal organ tissues of 44 healthy pigs (28 sentinel pigs and 16 pigs from slaughter slabs) were tested with four different PCR assays; 15.9 % were positive for ASFV suggesting that healthy pigs carrying ASFV exist in the swine population in the study area. P72 and p54 genotyping of ASFV revealed very limited diversity: all were classified in genotype IX at both loci, as were virtually all viruses causing recent ASF outbreaks in the region. Our study suggests that carrier pigs may play a role in ASF disease outbreaks, although the triggers for outbreaks remain unclear and require further investigation. This study significantly increases scientific knowledge of the epidemiology of ASF in the field in Africa, which will contribute to the design of effective surveillance and control strategies.
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