SASKATOON -- Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to test vaccines and antivirals for African Swine Fever.

The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization - International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) will spend the next few years learning more about the virus and developing treatments for the fever that has killed pigs across Africa and Asia.

“The issue with this virus is that it’s one of the largest viruses out there. We don’t know exactly what this virus does, how it causes disease, how the immune system can counter that. So, there’s lots that we need to first understand before we can come up with effective vaccines,” director and CEO Volker Gerdts said.

VIDO-InterVac is one of the largest high containment labs in the world and can house more than 1,000 pigs. The idea is to develop vaccines, expose domestic pigs to the virus and see if the vaccine is effective.

African Swine Fever has spread from Africa to parts of Europe and Asia. China has seen the worst of it, according to Gerdts.

“It has now infected more than 60 per cent of Chinese pigs and globally, we think it has infected or will infect more than a third of all pigs on this planet. So it’s a huge problem for the industry,” he said.

Gerdts said no treatment or vaccination exists for the virus and the worry is that it could spread to North America.

“It’s a huge threat to the Canadian or the North American pork industry. There’s estimates out there that if we had an outbreak like that, it would be billions of dollars in economic impact. The biggest problem with this disease is that it affects our ability to trade with other countries,” he said.

Seventy per cent of the pork produced in Canada is being traded to different countries - but were an outbreak to occur the country would have to declare it, resulting in other countries closing their borders.

Gerdts said the goal is to stop this from happening by helping Canada prepare for the disease.

African Swine Fever cannot infect humans and does not pose any food safety risks.