May 31 (UPI) -- As African swine fever continues its relentless spread across Asia, the World Organisation for Animal Health this week announced it will launch a global initiative to control -- and hopefully eradicate -- the disease.
"Given the global socioeconomic repercussions of ASF, controlling the disease is a high priority for both affected countries and those free of the disease," the group, known as the OIE, said in a statement. "Because of its complex epidemiology, it isn't possible to control ASF without a coordinated response from the different sectors involved."
The organization announced the new initiative just before North Korea reported its first case of African Swine Fever at a farm near the China border, making it the fifth Asian country to be infected.
China reported its first case last fall, and the disease has now spread to every Chinese province, crippling that country's pork industry. From China, it spread also to Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.
The disease is highly contagious and deadly to pigs and has no treatment. It is not harmful to humans.
"It really isn't a surprise" the disease spread to North Korea, said Paul Sundberg, the director of the Swine Health Information Center in Iowa. "That whole region is at risk."
South Korea is now beefing up its defenses against the disease -- as other nations around the world are.
In the United States, pork from African swine fever positive countries is not allowed across the border, and Customs and Border Patrol has increased the number of dogs trained to find smuggled pork hidden in people's luggage -- in addition to other security measures.
However, the continued spread of the disease in Asia increases the likelihood it will eventually reach the American herd, Sundberg said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has started testing pigs for the virus, and USDA officials are working with industry groups to develop response plans should a pig test positive.
The world organization's initiative promises to implement many of the same actions, but on a global scale. This will involve the coordination of hundreds of agencies, farms, groups and individuals in many countries, the group said. The OIE has 182 member nations, according to its website.
"Clear and transparent communication is essential if all these actors are to fully understand their roles and responsibilities," the OIE statement said.