The Philippines on Monday reported its first cases of African swine fever, becoming the latest country hit by the disease that has killed pigs from Slovakia to China, pushing up pork prices worldwide.
The virus is not harmful to humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs that almost always ends in death.
There is no antidote or vaccine and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of affected livestock.
Infected pigs were found in two towns near the Philippine capital Manila and authorities have culled more than 7,000 pigs within a one-kilometre (0.6-mile) radius, said Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
He said the nation was not facing an epidemic and urged Filipinos to continue eating pork, which is a critical market and accounts for 60 percent of meat consumption in the Philippines.
The Asian country is the world’s 8th biggest pork producer by volume and its swine industry is estimated at 260 billion pesos ($5 billion), according to the agriculture department.
Dar said 14 of 20 samples sent to a UK laboratory tested positive for African swine fever, but it will take another week to confirm how virulent the strain is.
The virus was first recorded in Rodriguez town, 10 kilometres east of Manila. Other undisclosed areas are still being closely monitored for possible infection, he added.
“We have never been in an epidemic, just to highlight that. We are responding to the increased number of deaths of pigs,” Dar said.
Authorities suspect the swine fever cases stemmed from backyard hog raisers who feed pigs “swill”, leftover food scraps from hotels and restaurants.
The agriculture department added the virus could also be traced to smuggled frozen meat and returning overseas Filipino workers who brought back infected meat products.
In May the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization said pork prices had “begun to soar”, rising by up to 50 percent both in China and on the Chicago futures exchange.