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H1N1 update: Swine herd still not affected, vaccine expected soon

While swine influenza has been present in the U.S. for over 80 years, it is not the same virus as the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus circulating among humans.

Dr. Paul Sundberg, vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff, said animal health officials have decades of experience dealing with influenza in the swine herd.

"The new novel H1N1 has similar symptoms as the classic H1N1 and other influenza viruses, but has not been found in the U.S. hog herd yet," he said. "Novel H1N1 will likely get into the U.S. hog herd from humans, just as it has in Venezuela, Australia and Canada and, when it does, animal health officials will manage it just as they do other influenza viruses."

Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture realize that it is possible for the novel H1N1 influenza virus to be found in the hog herd some time this fall.

"USDA has implemented a swine influenza virus surveillance program," said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Pork producers are using proper biosecurity measures to watch their herds, according to Sundberg. "The response to this virus is to monitor animals and movement. We stress that sick pigs should not be moved no matter what the sickness they are suffering from. USDA inspectors are in place at packing plants in order to ensure the health of the pigs being slaughtered."

Vilsack said sick pigs are not to be moved until they are over their sickness and healthy again. Hogs recover from influenza without any lingering health effects, similar to how humans do, and only healthy hogs will go to market.

"It is important that we stress that the general public cannot get H1N1 from handling or eating pork products," said Vilsack. "In order to help pork producers across the country, we also want to stress that this influenza must be called H1N1.

"By continuing to mislabel the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus that is affecting human populations around the world, the media is causing undue and underserved harm to American's agriculture industry, especially pork producers," he said.

Vilsack continued to explain that there are families that rely on their hogs to make a living for them and, during these challenging economic times, it is not fair to cause them more economic losses.

USDA continues to model the right behavior by purchasing pork and pork products to be used in school lunch programs to convey the message that pork is safe. Several U.S. trading partners have banned live pigs, pork or pork products, since the outbreak among human beings.

"We will continue to urge countries to base any bans on scientific evidence, and in accordance with their international obligations," said Vilsack.

Three major international health organizations--the World Organization for Animal Health, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization--have all issued statements that 2009 novel H1N1 influenza is not transmitted by eating meat.

If the 2009 strain of novel H1N1 influenza virus is detected in swine in the U.S., USDA officials are prepared to work with state partners, producers and their veterinarians to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Monitoring and studying influenza viruses in swine will help us learn about the virus and create better tools to diagnose and develop new and improved vaccines to protect the U.S. swine herds," he said.

The USDA has made a master seed virus for the 2009 novel H1N1 flu available to interested veterinary biologics manufacturers. This action will allow manufacturers to more rapidly produce an approved vaccine. USDA estimates that providing two seed viruses to five manufacturers saved each company approximately four to seven months of time normally spent in development, testing and regulatory submissions.

While USDA officials expect the vaccine to be available sometime this calendar year, they do not yet have a plan on how to allocate the vaccine to be used by producers.

USDA Agriculture Research Service deputy administrator for animal production and protection said research is currently being conducted on vaccines that are already available to see if they will work against novel H1N1.

"Managing influenza is a big team effort among many people. By working together, we can make a plan to prevent sickness among hogs and humans," said Sundberg.

Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by e-mail at jbremer@hpj.com.



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