U.S. 'on the offensive' against swine-flu potential

by Bryan Salvage
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DES MOINES, IOWA — Industry is quickly reacting to news accounts of a new strain of the swine influenza virus type H1N1 being found in humans in Mexico and in the U.S. Of the 40 cases found in the U.S., no deaths have been reported. Mexico's government is ordering closed schools nationwide as the suspected death toll from swine flu climbed to 149, according to The Associated Press.

Mexico’s Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said only 20 of the deaths have been confirmed to be from swine flu and the government was awaiting test results on the rest. He added 1,995 people have been hospitalized with serious cases of pneumonia since the first case of swine flu was reported on April 13. The government does not yet know how many were swine flu. Of those hospitalized, 1,070 have been released.

The National Pork Board is assuring consumers pork is, and will remain, safe to eat. "Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly-handled and cooked-pork products is safe," the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention states on its Web site.

The virus is contagious and can spread between humans. No pigs have been found to be infected or sick with this particular virus in the U.S.

However, as a precaution N.P.B. is urging producers to enhance biosecurity plans on their farms. Swine influenza, or "swine flu", is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs, caused by one of several swine influenza A viruses, according to the World Health Organization. Swine influenza viruses are most commonly of the H1N1 subtype, but other subtypes are also circulating in pigs (e.g., H1N2, H3N1, H3N2). Although swine influenza viruses are normally species specific and only infect pigs, they do sometimes cross the species barrier to cause disease in humans, W.H.O. relays. At present, it is unknown if this new strain causes any type of illness in swine. 

Since it is unique, N.P.B. said following good biosecurity practices would help producers to prevent introducing the new strain of swine influenza virus type H1N1 into U.S. operations. 

N.P.B suggests among other things:

1. Strict sick-leave policies for workers presenting influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough, body aches and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea, should be implemented and enforced.  

2. Implement biosecurity for workers reporting international travel.

3. Limit visitors to swine facilities.

4. Follow other generally accepted biosecurity practices. Ventilation systems in production facilities should be designed to minimize re-circulation of air inside animal-housing facilities and basic hygiene practices must be enforced, for example.

Anyone witnessing or hearing employees report respiratory illness in pigs should immediately contact a swine veterinarian. If deemed necessary, a veterinarian may require samples be taken from animals to send to veterinary diagnostic laboratories. If animals present fever or go off feed, the veterinarian may take lung tissue samples and nasal swabs to send to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory.

If a company has workers collect such samples, require these workers to use personal protective equipment, including an N95 respirator, gloves and safety goggles.

For more information, visit www.pork.org for updates.

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