Vilsack testifies on H1N1 outbreak, impact on pork

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified on May 7 before the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and agencies related to the Senate Committee on Appropriations on the 2009-H1N1 Influenza. He iterated that pork continues to be safe to eat, U.S.D.A. is involved in surveillance and vaccine development for swine, the agency is well prepared should it detect the 2009-H1N1 flu virus in U.S. swine and U.S.D.A. is working to keep markets open for pork products.

Experts at U.S.D.A. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have carefully examined the outbreak and found no evidence this 2009-H1N1 flu virus can be transmitted by food, Mr. Vilsack said. Continuing to pound home there is no evidence of the 2009-H1N1 virus in U.S. swine, Mr. Vilsack said U.S.D.A. continues taking steps to verify there are no signs of this virus in our swine herd.

"However, it's important to note that because of the inherent qualities of influenza, there could be transmission from humans to swine," he added.

As a precaution, people with flu-like symptoms should not interact with swine, and swine showing influenza symptoms should be kept away from the public and brought to the attention of state animal health authorities or U.S.D.A.

"To ensure early detection should the 2009-H1N1 flu be introduced into the U.S. swine population, and because this particular strain has human health implications, we have accelerated implementation of a swine influenza virus surveillance program, which we began developing in July 2008 in cooperation with C.D.C. and other stakeholders," Mr. Vilsack said.

The U.S. National Animal Disease Center is studying the 2009-H1N1 flu virus in hopes of developing a rapid and specific diagnostic test to target the unique genes in the 2009-H1N1 flu virus. This new test would be applied to samples that screen positive for any swine influenza virus.

N.A.D.C. scientists are also initiating critical new research to determine if current vaccines or previous exposure to current strains of swine influenza virus will provide protection against the 2009-H1N1 influenza virus.

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