The Dominican Republic may have to slaughter more than 500,000 pigs - about half of its herd - to help curb the first outbreak of African swine fever in the Americas in four decades, according to a senior agricultural official.
Rafael Abel, president of the Chamber of Deputies' Agricultural Commission, said that the government must kill 100% of both healthy and sick pigs in 11 of the 33 provinces of the Dominican Republic where the disease has been detected.
If it fails to do this, the highly contagious disease will likely cause a repeat of the 1978 outbreak, in which the entire pig population had to be slaughtered, he said in a phone interview Tuesday.
According to the Dominican Pig Farming Federation, these 11 provinces - including the capital Santo Domingo - are home to about 50% to 60% of the country's 1.35 million pigs.
The Ministry of Agriculture has started treating diseased animals and raised controls in a bid to isolate affected areas, but it has been prohibited from ordering mass eradications and hasn't reported how many pigs can be sick.
After the outbreak, the U.S. imposed new border controls in Mexico, Brazil and other countries. Although the Dominican Republic doesn't export a significant amount of pork products, there are fears travelers could inadvertently carry in it.
The U.S. - the world's largest pork producer after China - has never had an outbreak of African swine fever and is monitoring incoming flights from the Dominican Republic.
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The disease rips through pig herds causing fever, weight loss, lesions and weakness that generally kill an animal in seven to 10 days. It's not transmittable to humans, but there is no vaccine, making mass slaughters one of the few ways to control it.
African swine fever is a devastating, deadly disease that would have a significant impact on U.S. livestock producers, their communities and the economy if it was found there, the Department of Agriculture says on its website.
The Ministry of Agriculture of the Dominican Republic did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment.
The Dominican Republic has one of the highest per capita pork consumption rates in the Americas and was self-sufficient, said Francisco Brito, president of the Dominican Pig Farming Federation, as of 2019. The industries are very valuable to the rural poor.
There are hundreds of thousands of Dominicans who depend on pork production, even if it involves keeping a few pigs in their backyard, he said. Adriano Sanchez Roa, an opposition politician who used to head the country's agricultural bank, still recalls trucks loaded with dead pigs after the 1978 outbreak. He says the government has been slow to respond to the current crisis. The first cases of the disease were thought to have surfaced in April, but weren't confirmed until last week, he said.
'They didn't pay attention and it got out of control, said he. 'It's now in 22 provinces but we have to protect 11 provinces where it still hasn't been detected.