Local husbandry and veterinary bureau workers disinfect a pig farm

Husbandry and veterinary bureau workers in protective suits disinfect a pig farm as a prevention measure for African swine fever, in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, Aug. 22, 2018.

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee last Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration about the potential threat to the U.S. heparin supply due to the outbreak of African swine fever affecting pigs in China.

Heparin is a blood thinner derived from pig intestines that is used before surgeries. It is currently on the FDA’s drug shortage list.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, a Democrat, and the committee’s top Republican, Greg Walden, and four other bipartisan leaders, said in a letter seen by Reuters that they seek information on “any contingency plans in the event of a serious shortage” and a briefing from the FDA on its plans to address it.

About 60% of the crude heparin used to make finished heparin in the United States is sourced from China, the letter said.

The letter said heparin is the only anticoagulant drug used in the United States for open heart surgeries and kidney dialysis.

African swine fever, for which there is no cure and no vaccine, kills almost all infected pigs but does not harm people. The virus is similar to the strain found in recent years in Russia, Georgia and Estonia.

As many as half of China’s breeding pigs have either died from African swine fever or been slaughtered because of the disease, industry insiders estimate. The World Organization for Animal Health said in May that it would take years for China, the world’s biggest pork producer, to contain the virus.

The FDA said it has been monitoring the U.S. heparin shortage issue since 2018 “and has followed up with heparin suppliers. At this time we do not anticipate supply issues.”

In March 2018, the FDA said it encouraged the reintroduction of alternative sources of heparin. Until the 1990s, the United States produced heparin from bovine sources until concerns were raised about mad cow disease.

The United States has previously experienced heparin shortages, as recently as when Baxter International Inc.’s supply was impacted by the effect of Hurricane Maria on its manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico.