Personnel of the PVO disease surveillance team take blood samples from domesticated pigs on Cocoro Island in the town of Magsaysay. (Photo from the PVO/Palawan PIO)

The dreaded African Swine Fever (ASF) has reached Palawan province, with its outbreak recorded on Cocoro Island, located in the town of Magsaysay.

At present, there have been 300 documented swine deaths on the island; however, Dr. Darius Mangcucang, the officer-in-charge of the Provincial Veterinary Office (PVO), said on Thursday that measures have been taken to isolate the area and prevent the disease from spreading.

Dr. Mangcucang confirmed that among the six blood samples gathered from the surviving domesticated pigs in Cocoro following the outbreak, five were verified to be positive in the laboratory examination carried out by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI).

“Base sa samples natin, kasi di ba iilan na lang din yong naabutan nila? Nakapag collect sila sa anim na baboy, at sa anim na yon, lima yong positive,” he said. “Yong iba namatay na, so positive na rin yon.”

He said the PVO, in collaboration with the local government units of Magsaysay and Cuyo, continues to implement stringent measures to contain the outbreak of ASF on Cocoro.

They have now imposed a strict containment protocol, and community leaders have been vigilant in preventing the movement of pigs and pork products from the island. The transportation of pork into the area is also under rigorous surveillance.

“Isla naman yon, kaya nating i-manage yan, basta makipagtulungan yong mga tao. Yong mga barangay kagawad doon ang nagbabantay kasi may directive na rin ang kapitan nila,” he said.

“Puwedeng ubos na [ang mga baboy], wala na tayong icu-cull. Ang gagawin doon, disinfection. Maglalagay tayo ng mga apog doon sa mga pinaglibingan sa kanila ng mga farmers at ng mga residente, para icontain yong virus,” added Dr. Mangcucang, explaining further that the disinfection process will be long, or about 90 days.

Dr. Mangcucang said they have earlier dispatched foot baths and disinfectants to the island, while the municipal governments and the Philippine National Police (PNP) established checkpoints at entry points and boundaries between the two municipalities to prevent the further spread of ASF.

Ongoing efforts by the PVO include continuous monitoring, blood collection, surveillance, and quarantine inspections at air and sea ports across the province.

He emphasized that everyone in Magsaysay must adhere to stringent regulations governing the movement of live pigs, pork products, and associated goods. Town officials should also continue organizing informational education campaigns, forums, and seminars to raise awareness about ASF.

In a separate statement released by the Provincial Information Office (PIO) also on Thursday, Governor Victorino Dennis Socrates assured the public that the provincial government is committed to addressing the issue with urgency.

Collaborative efforts with various government offices are being undertaken to curb the situation, and the public is encouraged to comply with government policies to prevent ASF from spreading to other parts of the province.

“Maigting na tinututukan ang insidenteng ito at gumagawa ng mga kaukulang hakbang sa pakikipagtulungan ng iba pang mga ahensya ng gobyerno kasabay nang patuloy na panawagan sa publiko na sundin ang mga ipinatutupad na polisiya ng pamahalaan upang hindi na lumaganap pa sa ibang bahagi ng lalawigan ang ASF,” the governor said through the PIO.

The PVO also appeals to citizens to cooperate by refraining from purchasing online meat products and avoiding feeding pigs with swill or uncooked food, as these could be contaminated and carry exotic diseases transmissible to pigs.

The veterinary office advised residents that if any symptoms or suspicious pig deaths occur, they are urged to immediately inform them or the Municipal Agriculture Office.

As of April 2023, Palawan remained ASF-free until the confirmation on August 24.

Earlier, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan approved a resolution dealing with the ASF situation, denoted as Provincial Resolution No. 17927 series of 2023. This resolution strongly urges all local government units (LGUs) to strictly implement measures to prevent the introduction of ASF in Palawan, and also encourages municipal authorities to escalate efforts in combatting the animal virus.

ASF is an extremely contagious viral illness caused by a complex DNA virus. Although harmless to humans, it poses a significant menace to the swine industry and the economies of nations heavily reliant on pork production.

Its propagation is dreaded due to its high mortality rates among afflicted pigs, ranging between 80% and 100%. Once a pig is infected, there is no targeted remedy or vaccine to counteract the ailment.

Infected pigs typically exhibit indications like elevated fever, reduced appetite, hemorrhaging, and eventual fatality. The rapid dissemination and severe impact on pig populations can engender substantial economic setbacks for both pig farmers and the pork sector.