A suspected outbreak of swine fever in the south-western regions of the country has prompted health authorities to quarantine all pig farms in the area and ban exports, the agriculture ministry said on Wednesday.

"All pig farms in the Worcester area (near Cape Town) have been placed under official quarantine... No pigs or pig products may be moved into or out of the area without the relevant permits," said an agriculture ministry statement.

Samples were collected after a number of pigs died last week on a farm near Worcester, about 130km north-east of Cape Town, and "serological test raised suspicions of a disease named hog cholera or classical European swine fever," said the statement.

South Africa has been free of the disease since 1918.

The disease only affects pigs and has no effects on humans or other animals but it could potentially damage the pig industry and the international trade in pig.

South Africa was awaiting the results of laboratory tests from Britain and the agriculture ministry said it "will follow an eradication policy should the diagnosis be confirmed".

South Africa was hit by foot-and-mouth disease in late 2000 in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province while an outbreak of bird flu last year affected the ostrich industry. - Sapa-AFP