A catastrophic outbreak of African swine fever in Nigeria has led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of pigs across the country. While the exact number is unknown, Nigerian farmers estimate that, so far, nearly a million pigs have been killed.
African swine fever—also known as “pig Ebola”—was discovered in the early 1900s. In acute cases, the highly contagious virus kills nearly every pig it infects, causing hemorrhagic illness similar to Ebola in humans. In milder forms of the disease, mortality rates can still be as high as 70 percent. There is no vaccine or treatment for infected pigs, and the virus spreads quickly, so producers kill all infected or exposed animals in an attempt to stop it.
Beginning in Lagos and spreading to parts of neighboring Ogun early this year, the Nigerian outbreak has now reached animals in many parts of the country. While Nigeria had more than 60 outbreaks of African swine fever between 2016 and 2019, this one is much worse. Oke-Are, the largest pig cooperative in West Africa, confirmed that they had killed around 500,000 pigs. Ajo Omirin, an Oke-Are pig farmer who lost over 600 pigs to the virus, stated:
We have never experienced anything of this scale in the past. This is the worst and largest outbreak ever.
Nigeria is far from the only country that has struggled with African swine fever. A 2018 outbreak in China led to the deaths of over a million pigs, who either died from the disease or were killed to stop its spread. Although China saw the worst of the outbreak, the virus also spread to Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, and Russia. Outbreaks in China are ongoing, with 165 reported in 32 provinces since August 2018.
Farmed pigs are usually kept in overcrowded, squalid conditions. Many pigs live their entire lives indoors, without proper ventilation, veterinary care, or the ability to exercise or socialize normally. In their frustration, some pigs have been known to chew the ears, noses, and limbs of other pigs.
In addition to the suffering they cause, these unsanitary and cramped conditions help facilitate the spread of the virus from pig to pig. In fact, factory farms and slaughterhouses are breeding grounds for a multitude of pathogens. In April of this year, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) disrupted factory farms in Europe and reemerged in U.S. farms for the first time since 2017. Some strains of HPAI can infect humans.
Industrial animal agriculture presents a persistent threat to public safety. We can help make a difference for both animals and people by choosing more plant-based meals. Get tips and meal ideas with a FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide today.