Sickened Alta. hog herd tested for H1N1

A herd of reportedly over 2,000 hogs in Alberta has been placed under quarantine with what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspects to be the H1N1 virus that has so far sickened over 100 people in Canada.

“It is highly probable that the pigs were exposed to the virus from a Canadian who had recently returned from Mexico and had been exhibiting flu-like symptoms,” the CFIA said in a statement Saturday.

“Signs of illness were subsequently observed in the pigs. The individual has recovered and all of the pigs are recovering or have recovered.”

“Further testing is needed to more fully characterize the virus” and confirm or rule out the presence of H1N1, the CFIA said, but added that the chance that these pigs could transfer virus to a person is remote.

According to a separate release Sunday from the Canadian Pork Council, an “outside contractor,” described by the Reuters news agency as a carpenter, had returned from a vacation in Mexico on April 12 and began work in the Alberta barn in question on April 14, prior to any public awareness of a disease outbreak.

“At some point, the worker suffered influenza-like symptoms,” the council said. “When flu symptoms were later observed in the swine, the farm owner contacted his veterinarian who in turn notified government authorities.”

The carpenter’s family has also shown flulike symptoms, Reuters said Sunday.

Alberta Pork’s executive director, Paul Hodgman, said in a release Saturday that the agency commends the Alberta producer and his farm vet for notifying proper authorities as soon as his hogs were displaying flu-like symptoms.

Samples have been taken from the herd and sent for testing, Alberta Pork said, and the marketing agency expects it will take up to two weeks to “conclusively determine” the strain of flu virus the Alberta hog herd contracted.

No meat risk

Influenza viruses do not affect the safety of pork, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the CFIA noted Saturday. But as with any raw meat, the agency said, pork should always be properly handled and cooked to eliminate a range of food safety concerns.

In a separate statement Saturday, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said “the case identified in Alberta is entirely contained,” and added “there is no threat to human or animal health.

“First and foremost, I want to make it clear that Canadian pork is safe,” he said. “The international scientific community, including the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) and WHO, agree that H1N1 Influenza A is not a food safety issue. We will continue to reassure Canadian consumers and our international trading partners that Canadian pork is safe.”

Ritz added that he has spoken with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who Ritz said assured that “Canadian hog producers will continue to have access to the American market.

“We will continue to work with our trading partners to ensure that trade decisions are based on sound science,” Ritz said.

To continue to protect animal health, the pork council warned, hog producers must “fully enforce proper biosecurity measures.”

“Producers must continue to be vigilant”, said Jean-Guy Vincent, the council’s first vice-chair, “particularly with personal hygiene measures such as hand washing and showering.”

“Hogs are susceptible to many human flu viruses and we are working hard to ensure that all proper biosecurity measures are in place on our farms,” Alberta Pork’s Hodgman said. “These steps minimize the introduction of a virus onto a farm, by people, by vehicles, by wildlife such as birds, or other livestock.”

The influenza H1N1 virus in question has reportedly now spread to 18 countries, and is suspected in the deaths of over 100 people, nearly all in Mexico.

The federal Public Health Agency on Sunday reported 101 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 in people in Canada so far, including 18 in Alberta and 29 in British Columbia. Elsewhere in Western Canada, Saskatchewan has yet to report any human cases, while Manitoba on Sunday logged its first confirmed case of H1N1 in a girl from Brandon who had recently travelled to Mexico, the U.S. and B.C.

Most other provinces have reported at least one case of H1N1 except P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador. Canada’s northern territories also have yet to report any cases.

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