African swine fever (ASF) has been reported and confirmed in South Africa since the early 20th century, which lead to the inception of the Swine Fever control zone in 1935. In the South African context, the sylvatic cycle is the main maintenance and transmission cycle that leads to sporadic outbreaks in the domestic pig population, particularly reported in the designated ASF control area.
ASF is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa and maintains itself through three different epidemiological cycles in different regions of the continent. The current outbreaks in the Caucasus and Russia have shown the ability of African swine fever virus (ASFV) to establish itself where low biosecurity conditions exist. In South Africa, the spread of ASF has been successfully controlled in the domestic pig populations with control based on the Animal Disease Act 35 of 1984. The act prohibits the movement of all suid species and their products from the ASF control area in the north, except where special permission has been granted by the Provincial Veterinary Services.
One of the key uncertainties related to climate change is potential variations in the weather patterns and fluctuations in climatic conditions that could lead to alterations in production systems and land use patterns. These in turn raise the possibility of redistribution of both the arthropod vectors and wild suids to environmentally suitable areas. It is therefore critical for the zoning of ASF that patterns of distribution of the reservoir hosts are monitored in line with the possible variations in the weather patterns around and along the ASF control line. Nonetheless, there are no known records of the reassessment of the swine fever control line, which was instituted based on the distribution of previous outbreaks and the presence of warthogs and tampans, since its inception in 1935.
The objective of this study was to evaluate the distribution of the ASF disease determinants; warthogs and warthog burrows, Ornithodoros moubata and ASFV; along the ASF control line with the view of determining whether there was a need to re-align the trajectory of the line or not.
A total of 304 farms were randomly selected 20 km north and 20 km south of the ASF control line from the North West, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces through proportional weighting. A total of 73 farms from the initial sample, distributed along the ASF control line, were sampled for the presence of warthogs, warthog burrows and soft ticks of the Ornithodoros spp. (tampans). One hundred and fifty seven warthog burrows were found, of which 92% were recently used by warthogs. Tampans were recovered from 22.2% of the 63 farms where warthog burrows were found and 12.74% of the total (157) warthog burrows. Of the infested warthog burrows, only 5% (one of the twenty burrows) constituting 7.14% (one out of 14 farms) found south but in close proximity to the ASF control line, was positive for ASFV DNA. There were no warthog burrows found with PCR positive tampans north of the ASF control line. The spread of tampans beyond the ASF control line poses a question on whether the control line needs to be moved further south in the affected parts of the country.
The study confirmed that the reservoirs are found beyond the current ASF control line. Although the causes for this apparent re-distribution are unclear, changes in land use and the increase in wildlife farming may contribute to this finding. Examination of weather data along the control line between 1993 and 2012 found the maximum temperatures was increasing and humidity is decreasing. In the absence of previous data on warthog and tampan distribution along the control line, the present study cannot evaluate if these changes have had an impact on the distribution of warthogs and tampans in the vicinity of the control line. This study provides baseline data for future monitoring of the control line and concluded that there was currently no need to realign the trajectory of the ASF disease control line but to conduct scheduled monitoring of the O. moubata status in the future.