05/08/09 — Officials: Swine flu no effect on pork

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Officials: Swine flu no effect on pork

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on May 8, 2009 1:46 PM

The term "swine flu," which has captured headlines around the world for the past few weeks, is a misnomer and is in no way is an indication of the true nature of the virus, say experts in the hog business.

Despite testing nationwide, no hog in the United States has been found to have the disease, which has sickened dozens of people in the U.S., including a handful of cases in North Carolina, and been blamed for the deaths of more than 100 people in Mexico, where it was first discovered.

The disease has tarnished the reputation of pork products and frightened consumers for no reason, say officials with the North Carolina Pork Council.

You cannot catch swine flu by eating pork or handling it, the World Health Organization has said, but convincing some consumers has been difficult because of the stigma associated with the disease's name.

With millions of hogs raised every year in Wayne and nearby counties, the effect of the constant use of the phrase "swine flu" has left eastern North Carolina producers feeling, well, a bit under the weather.

Pork producers have already had a bad year, with the cost of raising the animals going up while prices have gone down, and the scare created by the swine flu news has not helped matters. Several countries, including Russia and China, have banned imports of American pork from states in which humans have been reported to have the disease. In Egypt, the government has ordered the wholesale slaughter of entire hog herds.

Dr. Eric Gondor, a veterinarian with Goldsboro Milling Co., said the decision to use the term "swine flu" was an unfortunate one for the hog industry. The term used by the scientific community means one thing, but something else entirely to the general public, he said.

The version of the flu called "swine flu" is a mix of human, bird and pig viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Gondor said the only hogs that have been reported to have the swine flu are in a herd in Alberta, Canada. They caught it from a farmworker who returned from Mexico carrying the virus, he said.

Dr. Gondor said Goldsboro Milling Co. took precautions to ensure the disease did not enter local operations, in addition to the precautions already taken to keep herds healthy and disease-free.

Workers returning from Mexico were not allowed to be in contact with the company's animals for at least 10 days after returning and had to show proof that they had been vaccinated for the flu. They also had to show no signs of having been sick themselves before being allowed to go back to work.

Currently, hog herds in Mexico are being tested, and Dr. Gondor said that by week's end there could be news coming from that country about possible infections, but that as of Wednesday, no Mexican hogs had tested positive.

Dr. Gondor said the major swine producers in the U.S. already stay abreast of disease developments and, along with several major agricultural universities, continually study and prepare for new mutations of flu or other diseases that could crop up. Hogs already are vaccinated for one type of flu, he said, and vaccines are updated every few years to keep up with mutations in the disease.

For example, he said, for many years the H1N1 virus was the only flu virus to show up in hogs. But in the late 1990s, another strain, called H3N2, was discovered and soon became the dominant strain in hog herds. Producers quickly developed a vaccine for that strain to add to the dose.