Haiti sees first African swine fever outbreak in 37 years

African swine fever is harmless to humans but often fatal to pigs. PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - Haiti has recorded its first outbreak of the fatal pig virus African swine fever in 37 years, the World Organisation for Animal Health said, fueling concerns about the disease's spread in the Americas.

An operation in Anse-à-Pitre, near Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic, suffered an outbreak that began on Aug 26, the organisation known as OIE said in a report on Monday.

The detection is "unfortunate" but not surprising due to recent cases in the Dominican Republic, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Tuesday. The agency is consulting with animal health officials in both countries.

Outbreaks on Hispaniola raise worries that African swine fever could spread to the United States, which has never had the disease, and temporarily cripple US pork exports. Governments often block imports of pork from countries where the disease has been found to prevent transmission.

The United States already prohibits Haitian and Dominican pork due to another pig disease there, according to the USDA.

Still, US Customs and Border Protection is increasing inspections for illegal pork on flights from Hispaniola and making sure airplane garbage is properly disposed of, the USDA said.

The USDA in July reported the Dominican Republic had the Americas' first cases of African swine fever in nearly 40 years.

Last week, the USDA confirmed Haiti's outbreak through testing at a laboratory on Plum Island in New York, the OIE said. Haiti is conducting surveillance for the disease and imposed a quarantine to control the outbreak, the OIE said.

African swine fever is harmless to humans but often fatal to pigs. It originated in Africa before spreading to Europe and Asia and has killed hundreds of millions of pigs.

The disease spread rapidly in China starting three years ago and wiped out half the country's hog herd within a year.

In Haiti, the outbreak is the latest challenge for residents and the government following an earthquake and the president's assassination.

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