World swings into action against 'North American' flu outbreak

by Bryan Salvage
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ROME — Teams of experts have been mobilized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (F.A.O.) to determine whether or not the new strain of swine flu (H1N1) virus, which already killed many people in Mexico, has a direct connection to pigs. On April 27, the World Organization for Animal Health named the virus identified in those infected as the "North American" flu.

F.A.O. is also deploying a team of experts of the F.A.O. World Organization for Animal Health (O.I.E.) Crisis Management Centre-Animal Health (CMC-AH), to Mexico this week to help the government assess the epidemiologic situation in pig production.

F.A.O. has also requested its technical staff throughout the world be on full alert and to immediately report any influenza-like illness in swine stocks and forward specimens to F.A.O./O.I.E. reference laboratories.

At present, transmission seems to be only from humans to humans; there is currently no evidence the new strain of influenza A virus has entered the human population directly from pigs. More analysis is being planned to gain better insight into the situation.

"There is no evidence of a threat to the food chain; at this stage it is a human crisis and not an animal crisis, but we have to be alerted and prepared," iterated Joseph Domenech, F.A.O. chief veterinary officer. "The first actions F.A.O. and others must take are to ascertain if the new strain is circulating in pigs, establish if there are any direct linkages between the illness in the human population and animals and explain how this new virus has obtained genetic materials from human, bird and pig influenza strains."

F.A.O. is working in close coordination with the World Health Organization, O.I.E. and other national and international actors involved at all stages of the organization’s operations to ensure maximum efficiency in this still unfolding situation.

Governments and the international community are being urged to increase disease surveillance in hogs.

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