May 3, 2009

Swine Flu Found In Canadian Pigs

Officials said Saturday that the first swine flu virus in pigs was found in Canada. The pigs that were infected by a farm worker that visited Mexico. 

Dr. Brian Evans, executive vice president with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, told a news conference that swine flu regularly causes outbreaks in pigs and the pigs do not pose a food safety risk. 

Officials said that the pigs in the province of Alberta were considered to be infected by a Canadian farm worker that had recently visited Mexico and got sick after returning to Canada.

Since then, the traveler has recovered and the estimated 200 pigs that were infected are recovering as well, according to officials.  There have been no pigs that died, and officials said that they do not think the flu has spread past the farm.

Evans said that normally, detecting influenza in pigs does not generate a response from food safety officials, but the current circumstances have changed that with the international flu outbreak.

"The chance that these pigs could transfer virus to a person is remote," he said, adding that he would have no issue eating pork from the infected pigs.

Canada has taken necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, said Tom Vilsack, U.S. Agriculture Secretary.

"This detection does not change the situation here in the United States," he said.

There is still no evidence of pigs passing the virus to humans, or still eating pork being a risk, according to the World Health Organization.

There has been a joint statement issued by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture and the World Health Organization, along with the WTO and the World Organization for Animal Health, saying there is no justification for any anti-pork trade measures as a result of the swine flu epidemic since there is still no evidence supporting that the virus spreads by food.

This was the most emphatic statement yet from the U.N. and other agencies on the issue.

The statement was made after major American pork importers like Russia and China banned pork products from certain U.S. states due to the swine flu spreading.  Other countries have banned certain pork products from the entire United States.

Canadian officials said that these measures were unwarranted.

The pigs that were infected in Alberta were thought to be infected by a farm worker that returned to Mexico on April 12 and began working on the farm a couple of days later.  Evans said that officials noticed the pigs had flu-like symptoms April 24.

About 10 percent of the 2,200 pigs on the farm have been infected, according to Evans.

The pigs were likely infected the same way that humans have been worldwide, and the virus has acted no differently in the pigs than other swine flu viruses.

"Whatever virus these pigs were exposed to is behaving in that exact manner as those we regularly see circulating in North America and in swine herds in virtually every nation around the world," Evans said.

Studies have shown that swine flu is common throughout pig populations around the globe, with 25 percent of animals showing evidence of antibodies of the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Evans said that the new virus shows no signs of mutation when passing from human to pig.


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