SBS staff met with Dr. Jose Manuel Sanchez Biscaino, one of the world's leading authorities in the study of African swine fever, after more than a month of African swine fever. He has been studying African swine fever for more than 40 years. He is also a professor of veterinary medicine in Madrid, Spain, and director of the Institute for Standardization of African swine fever, operated by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE). The African swine fever standards lab is located in Spain, home to Dr. Jose. Spain first became infected with the African swine fever in 1960, but in 36 years it was able to eradicate the virus.

Dr. Jose visited Korea on the 14th of the 3 nights and 4 days. This is the first visit since the outbreak in May this year, before the outbreak of African swine fever in Korea. He had a busy schedule, including meeting with quarantine headquarters and the Handon Association. The reporter, with Dr. Jose's approval, was able to interview him at his lodging in Seoul on the evening of the 16th. Even though it would be very tiring to leave the plane the next morning, Dr. Jose answered the reporter's questions.
Q. You visited Korea in May of this year, before the outbreak of the African swine fever. At that time, you listed Korea as a country that is at risk for developing African swine fever after Thailand. What was the reason?

[According to the World Animal Health Organization's Research Institute for African swine fever standards, I have a very high chance of getting it. Because there were two routes with high risk of transmission. The first was that tourists from China, where the swine fever had already spread, brought in processed pork, and the other was that the virus was likely to come from North Korea.]

Q. In the end, I had an African swine fever in Korea. How did you feel when you first heard this news?

[I was very sorry. When swine fever developed in Korea, there was an expected time I thought, but earlier than that. After the first outbreak, the spread to other farms was so fast that I was surprised and worried. The virus spreads through various media. Not only wild boars, but also humans are responsible for the spread of the virus. I was worried so I visited Korea as soon as possible. When I came to Korea, I was able to diagnose the situation more accurately.]

"The most promising viral entry path is North Korea… when it tries to prevent spread."

Q. There are various opinions on how the African swine fever virus came into Korea. What do you think?

[The most likely funnel is North Korea. There is little information on how our country's swine fever spread in North Korea. North Korea is a closed country and does not provide much information. We do not know how many pigs infected with the virus died, and the mortality rate is unknown. We do not know how North Korea responds to the virus. There is no information at all. What we do know is that North Korea has been infected since the virus came from China from the beginning, and it spread very quickly.

But the first funnel is no longer important. Right now, we need to focus on the fact that African swine fever is spreading in Korea and respond quickly. It's a waste of time to think about whether the first funnel is a foreign visitor or a North Korean. The reality is that wild boars are becoming infected and need to take action quickly.]
"Wild boar seems to have been infected first… likely moved to breeding pigs"

Q. In Korea, the first virus was detected in farmed pigs, and the first time a virus was detected in a wild boar (mortem), it was more than full after the first outbreak. I would like to ask your opinion whether the breeding pigs are infected first, or whether the wild boar is already infected before the breeding pigs in order of confirmation.

[This is an important question. It is difficult to know exactly when the wild boar was first infected. This is because wild boar is found in mortality. There will be more mortals that are not actually identified. It is very difficult to spot because most of the dead are eaten by other wild animals or wild boars.

We found three dead bodies early, but no active investigation has been done on how many have been infected since. To date, this has not been done. Only the mortality found was investigated. To answer the question, it's hard to say what's right yet because of the lack of information. But I think it's possible that wild boars were first infected and then transferred to breeding pigs.]

Q. You also analyzed that the pig-carrying truck is the main mediator of the African swine fever.

[Yes, it's possible. One of the biggest variables of virus spread is the high viability of the virus. A truck that has not been properly disinfected may have had the virus for a long time. Therefore, transportation vehicles such as trucks play a big role in spreading the virus. Some of the 14 farms in Korea are expected to be secondary in transit. There are many cases, such as a carrier mistake or movement. It's worth noting that a lot of data should be reviewed by epidemiological investigations, but at the moment it is possible that human behavior has caused the spread.]
"Catching highly contagious wild boars is now the most important"

Q. There are many kinds of mediators of African swine fever. In your opinion, which of the most important infectious agents is the one to catch?

[Wild boar. It is most important to catch wild boar problems. Wild boars are highly productive of viruses and easily spread to other animals. I move from place to place. The movement is not frequent, but its density is so high that the contact between objects is very close. So you can see that the virus moves pretty fast.

In Europe, it took four years for the virus to spread from the Russian border to the Belgian border. Not only wild boar movements but also people's movements contributed to the spread. This is because people carry viruses as they move around. I always stress that wild boar is the main cause, but we also have to consider the spread of human error. It is very important to find and fix the problem.]

Q. How do you respond to wild boars in Europe to prevent the spread of the virus?

[As you know, wild boar has been infected with viruses in Europe. The first is to protect breeding pigs. It is relatively difficult to prevent contact between breeding pigs and wild boars. Strengthen the protection of farmhouses by protecting them. In the early stages of my outbreak, I advised that this immediate response would be to increase and strengthen the protection system to protect the pigs from wild boars that are likely to be near farms. This is the first thing to do.

Second, we need to reduce wild boar populations. The most effective of the many systems used in Europe is the method implemented in the Czech Republic. In a relatively short period of time, the Czech Republic has shifted from a contaminated country where African swine fever prevails to a complete eradication of the virus. The Czech Republic reduced the population by installing a current-flowing fence to prevent access. It's a successful case and it's a very efficient way. I think it would be a good idea to introduce it in Korea.]

"Easy to infect pigs from wild boar to breeding pigs ... widely known facts"

Q. When experts point out the risk of spreading wild boars for viruses, the Ministry of Environment says it is very rare to be transmitted from wild boars to breeding pigs. What do you think about this?

(The Ministry of Environment said that the first outbreak of farmers in Paju, Gyeonggi-do, on the 17th, said, 'The possibility of transmission through wild boars is unlikely.' Only two reported cases of breeding pigs have been reported in Russian grazing farms worldwide.)

[The fact that it is easy to move the disease from a wild boar to a raised pig is widely known among people studying African swine fever. We experimented a lot on this. I don't know what kind of data these people are talking about. But spreading from wild to livestock is easy.]

Q. In Korea, two ministries are in charge of African swine fever. I'm the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Environment Division, which is in charge of wildlife. What about Europe?

[We must refrain from distinguishing wild animals from livestock. Animal health is a concept that encompasses wildlife, livestock and humans. Because diseases and viruses that are transmitted to wild animals are often harmful to the human body. Therefore, we must look at animal health and public health on the same line as the concept of 'one health'. In European countries, interdepartmental exchanges are active. Other ministries meet to form a committee to discuss the matter together. The environment, the animals, and the health and hygiene of humans have a direct and indirect effect on our human beings, so they must be viewed as integrated concepts. In the end, everyone's 'health' needs to be a big concept.]
"Important cooperation with related government departments ... If exchanges are not smooth, a committee to lead the unity is required."

[The Ministry of Environment needs many people because they know a lot about wildlife. The same is true for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It is natural to cooperate. It is important to harmonize with the consistent goal of public health. The less time there is between exchanges between ministries, the more important it is for someone to step up and lead them to consensus. In Europe, when this happens, an inter-ministerial committee is formed. In the event of a conflict, the ministers of the more advanced ministries lead to harmony among the ministries.]

Q. How can I succeed in eradicating the virus?

[The response to wild animals and carnivores is different. In the case of wild boars, it is effective to reduce the population itself, and breeding animals are recommended to be protected. But the most important thing is to be aware of the viruses that wild boars carry. It is important to know which areas are at risk of infection, and you also need to know the danger zones where wild boars are frequent. At the same time, farmhouses need to be thoroughly protected. Both methods must be used together to prevent this.]

"The role of pig farmers is very important… when you need to work together to prevent disasters."

Q. More than a month after the first outbreak of the African swine fever, many hog farmers are struggling. What should farmers do?

[The role of the farm owner is very important. The most important thing when fighting a disease is how early you find out if you are infected. Farm owners must play two roles. It is a quick way to find out if you are infected and to protect your farm from infectious diseases. Governments and researchers should inform farm owners about the path of virus infection and how to prevent it. Farm owners are literally the heads of farms. If they don't know much about the virus, aren't prepared for it, and don't interact well with the government, only disaster is left. We can't do anything unless they are. Again, it's important that everyone ride on the boat. We have to solve the national disaster, but when everyone plays a different role, problems arise. There is only one boat. Now everyone must board the ship named 'Korea'.]

(Dr. Jose has also commented on domestic killing policies. Currently, Korea has a collective killing policy at the city and county level. Dr. Jose explains that the standard for establishing a global swine fever extermination zone is a 5-10 km radius of disease-producing farms.

Q. I heard that you have visited the border of North Korea this time. How was it?

[Animals are easy to cross borders. If animals cross borders and get injured nearby, the virus will spread more easily. Therefore, Korea is at risk of reinfection. But not enough to worry about. Don't worry if you're thorough farming and quick response. I think African swine fever can disappear in Korea.]
● "Vaccine development progress is good… as early as four years later."

Q. I read an article saying you are developing an oral vaccine. Please tell us briefly how much progress has been made and how much time is left to be practical.

[The progress of vaccine development is very good. Recently, the European Union selected our vaccine product and funded 10 million euros for research. We established a consortium. Vaccine prototype development began on 1 October. Our consortium is continuing to study the three vaccine prototypes we have. One of them is very fast. The prevalence of swine fever in this vaccine prototype is 92%. Right now we are focusing on safety. It will take time because you need to do a lot of experiments to make sure the vaccine is safe. Safety is the most important factor. At the end of the process, the vaccine will be safe and practical in four years. But I can't tell you the time until commercialization. As I said before, safety is a top priority, so I can't tell you how much more time is needed.]

(Dr. Jose has recently been confirmed by the European Union as a recipient of 10 million euros in African swine fever research. It is a test to see if there are no side effects even if more than 10 vaccines are eaten.)

(Videograph: Oh Se-gwan VJ, Video Editing: Park Seung-yeon, Translation: Ye-won Yoon)

※ Contributors: Hyun-Kyu Jung, Ph.D.