Japan may have to kill up to 15,000 pigs amid 'extremely serious' swine fever epidemic

A fast-spreading swine fever epidemic in Japan has spawned a special task force set up by authorities to contain the disease, as officials disclosed Wednesday that thousands of pigs may have to be slaughtered.

Five central and western prefectures in Japan have reported cases of the highly contagious virus at farms since January, Kyodo News reported.

"We are facing an extremely serious situation," Agriculture Minister Takamori Yoshikawa told a meeting at his ministry in Tokyo.

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Government officials in Japan are planning a rapid response to keep the virus from spreading, including culling up to 15,000 pigs at affected farms. Swine fever is often deadly for pigs and wild boars, but is not infectious for humans, according to Reuters.

Video from Kyodo News on Wednesday showed officials at one farm in hazmat suits.

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So far at least 6,600 pigs are set to be slaughtered at a farm in the city of Toyota and banning shipments from other farms nearby, according to the news agency.

The farm shipped pigs to farms in other prefectures, which also tested positive for the virus. Swine fever was first detected at a far in the city of Gifu in September, which was the first discovery in Japan since 1992.

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If not contained, the disease may affect Japanese pork imports, Kyodo reported.

"It worries me that we don't know how the disease is spreading," a pig farmer in Nagano Prefecture told told the news agency. "The only thing we can do is to thoroughly manage hygiene."