Business & Policy
USDA confirms 1st case of H1N1 flu in US hog
By Christopher Doering Charles Abbott
By Christopher Doering Charles Abbott
Oct. 21, 2009 – The pandemic H1N1 flu virus was confirmed for the 1st time on Oct. 19, 2009, in a U.S. hog, which was exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair where 4 teenagers became sick.
Oct. 21, 2009 – The pandemic H1N1 flu virus was confirmed for the 1st time on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, in a U.S. hog, which was exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair where 4 teenagers became sick, the Agriculture Department stated.
USDA said the discovery does not suggest infection of commercial pig herds raised for slaughter. Health officials say the virus, originally known as swine flu, is not linked to meat products.
"People cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products. Pork is safe to eat," agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
Swine flu, common in hogs around the world, causes fever and coughing in pigs, which usually recover from the illness. The virus has been found in several herds in Canada.
The new H1N1 virus, which emerged in March  and was declared a pandemic in June, is circulating the globe and is widespread among people in 41 states.
Vilsack said "we have fully engaged our trading partners to remind them" that livestock experts say there is no reason to restrict trade.
Seven countries, including China, already had bans in place against US pork. Vilsack, who is scheduled to visit China on Oct. 28 and 29, 2009, for routine trade discussions, said last week he would urge China to end its restrictions on US beef and pork.
"We certainly are concerned," said Dave Warner of the National Pork Producers Council, about the potential of new bans.
U.S. hog futures turned lower near midday on Monday [19 Oct 2009] at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but traders blamed weak cash hog and pork markets, rather than a hog at the Minnesota State Fair contracting the pandemic H1N1 flu.
Additional samples from the state fair are being tested, said USDA. Samples were taken from 26 Aug-1 Sep 2009 as part of a research project that documents flu viruses in settings where people and hogs interact. USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories used 3 tests to confirm the presence of the virus in a pig sample.
Detection in the hog at the state fair does not suggest commercial herds are infected, said USDA, because show pigs and commercial herds are separate parts of the swine industry and usually do not mix.
Minnesota State Fair, which ended 6 Sep 2009, sent 120 teens home on 3 Sep 2009 after 4 of them were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. The teens were members of a performing arts group in 4-H, a nationwide social and educational program for rural youth.
On Friday [16 Oct 2009], USDA said "information available at this time would suggest the children were not sickened by contact with the fair pigs." It said the hogs appeared healthy when the samples were taken. A USDA source said it appeared some of the children handling the swine were showing signs of the flu.
A meat industry group, the American Meat Institute, said it "is not unexpected" for the pandemic H1N1 virus to be discovered in US hogs. It said experts "have underscored that novel H1N1 is not a foodborne disease; it is a respiratory infection that does not impact pork safety."
According to the World Health Organization, fewer than 5000 people have died from H1N1, also known as swine flu, this year . WHO said influenza activity in the northern hemisphere was much higher than usual.
Most people who catch the H1N1 virus suffer mild symptoms. But in contrast to seasonal flu strains, which can be serious for elderly people, H1N1 can turn dangerous for some people with existing health conditions or otherwise healthy young adults.