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Artificial insemination as alternative transmission route for African Swine Fever Virus

The rapid spread of the African swine fever virus (ASFV), causing severe disease with often high fatality rates in Eurasian suids, prevails as a threat for pig populations and dependent industries worldwide. Although advancing scientific progress continually enhances our understanding of ASFV pathogenesis, alternative transmission routes for ASFV have yet to be assessed. Here, we demonstrate that ASFV can efficiently be transferred from infected boars to naïve recipient gilts through artificial insemination (AI). In modern pig production, semen from boar studs often supplies many sow herds. Thus, the infection of a boar stud presents the risk of rapidly and widely distributing ASFV within or between countries. Daily blood and semen collection from four boars after intramuscular inoculation with ASFV strain ‘Estonia 2014’ resulted in the detection of ASFV genomes in the semen as early as 2 dpi, in blood at 1 dpi while semen quality remained largely unaffected. Ultimately, after insemination with extended semen, 7 of 14 gilts were ASFV positive by 7 days post insemination, and all gilts were ASFV positive by 35 days post insemination. Twelve out of 13 pregnant gilts aborted or resorbed at the onset of fever. A proportion of fetuses originating from the remaining gilt showed both abnormalities and replication of ASFV in fetal tissues. Thus, we present evidence for the efficient transmission of ASFV to gilts via AI and also to implanted embryos. These results underline the critical role that boar semen could play in ASFV transmission.

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