Lunar New Year: travel responsibly to avoid carrying ASF virus

On the eve of a new lunar year, the risk of disease spread increases due to the massive movements of people travelling to celebrate. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) launches the second phase of its awareness campaign focusing on the role of travellers as carriers of African swine fever, a deadly pig disease, and how they can avoid spreading it.

Paris, 24 January 2020 – Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Rat. The largest annual human movement in the world is underway: people travelling home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, particularly to and from countries in Asia. With this, higher risk of travellers spreading infectious diseases such as African swine fever (ASF) or even the newly identified 2019novel-Coronavirus, poses a major threat to both animal and human populations, worldwide.

ASF affects domestic and wild pigs, and it has been causing detrimental impacts at different levels of society in over 50 countries across Sub Saharan Africa, Asia and Europe since 2018. ASF is not a danger to human health, however, it poses a major threat to pig health and welfare and, therefore, to pig production systems. Considering that pigs have become a main source of animal protein among a growing human population, ASF not only impacts the livelihoods of small and large-scale pig producers, but also threatens global food security. To date, more than 6 million animal losses have been reported in Asia and the Pacific, the biggest pork producing region in the world.

Given that there is no effective vaccine or treatment against ASF yet, prevention remains essential to stop its spread. It is important that key actors in the transmission of the disease acknowledge their role in preventing it and human carelessness is one of the main drivers of ASF spread. As the disease can travel from one country to another through people transporting infected pigs or carrying contaminated pork products or clothing, effective risk communication becomes vital in the global response to this disease. Regardless of their status, countries must be prepared and inform relevant stakeholders on the necessary prevention measures, particularly in periods of increased movements of people.

As part of the OIE “ASF kills pigs” awareness campaign, the OIE launches today new communication tools to raise awareness among travellers and reinforce their messages: a video for travellers, an announcement script, and specific key messages. Additional communication tools addressed to travellers about the risk of ASF spread and what can be done to avoid it are also available. These tools include a poster, a leaflet, a short animation and a general video.

Considering the complexity of the disease, as well as the need of transdisciplinary collaboration, the OIE has joined forces with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in matters of risk communication amongst air passengers. A campaign guide has been developed to assist airline and airport staff in the implementation of the OIE awareness campaign.

During the Lunar New Year celebrations, the OIE calls on transport authorities to remain vigilant, and most importantly for people travelling to avoid transporting pigs or carrying pork products or declaring them appropriately. While enjoying their travels, they can also protect both healthy pigs and local livelihoods from ASF.

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