Transboundary spread of pig diseases: the role of international trade and travel
As globalization increases the interconnectedness between nations, economies, and industries, the introduction of diseases will continue to remain a prominent threat to the livestock sector and the trade of animals and animal products, as well as the livelihoods of farmers, food security and public health. The global pig sector, with its size and dichotomy between production type and biosecurity level, is particularly vulnerable to the transmission of transboundary animal diseases such as African and classical swine fever, foot and mouth disease, or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. All of the above pose a constant threat to swine health, mainly as a result of both formal and informal international trade. Inspired in the risk assessment methodology, this paper classifies and provides an overview of the different pig disease introduction and exposure pathways, illustrated with abundant examples. Introduction pathways are classified as formal international trade (by product), informal international trade (by product), and spread through fomites. Formal trade of pigs and pork products is regulated by legislation and measures protecting animal populations from exotic diseases. Much more difficult to control is the transboundary swine disease transmission originating through informal trade, which entails illegal smuggling, but also the informal cross-border transfer of animals and products for personal use or within informal market chains. Meat products are most commonly mentioned, although fomites have also played a role in some cases, with live pigs, being more difficult to smuggle playing a role less frequently. The main exposure pathways are also described with the oral route playing a prominent role. Risk assessments can aid in the identification of pathways of pathogen introduction and exposure. However, quantitative information on informal disease introduction pathways remains very scarce and often incomplete, making it difficult to estimate the actual magnitudes of risks. Nevertheless, this knowledge is deemed essential to set up risk based awareness, prevention and surveillance programs that correspond to reality.