More than a month since the first reports of influenza in humans in Mexico, the first case of the H1N1 influenza in pigs has been reported. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced on 2 May that a H1N1 influenza virus was found in a pig herd in Alberta. Since then, the CFIA has assured the public that the outbreak on the Alberta farm has been fully contained and that additional analyses of the virus have confirmed that the virus is the human strain. It is highly probable that the pigs were exposed to the virus from a farm worker who had recently returned from Mexico and had been exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Signs of illness were subsequently observed in the pigs, but both the farm worker and all of the pigs are recovering or have recovered.
The outbreak came as the World Health Organisation agreed that the virus should be called influenza A (H1N1) rather than “swine flu”.
Although this outbreak remains the only confirmed case of H1N1 influenza in pigs so far, and although in this case the virus was transmitted from a man to the pigs, a number of countries have resorted to using panic measures to prevent spread of non-existent “swine flu” even before this outbreak, which have had a significant negative impact on welfare of pigs and pig farming.
For example, Egypt has reportedly culled its entire pig population (approximately 250,000 animals) without any evidence of disease in pigs, which has prompted the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to issue a statement that there is no need to slaughter animals in view of preventing circulation of the influenza A (H1N1) virus.
In Afghanistan, a pig has been quarantined at Kabul Zoo after visitors raised concerns it could infect them with “swine flu”. According to media reports, this is Afghanistan’s only known pig, because pigs and pork products are illegal in this country for religious reasons.
The pig industry has also suffered significant financial losses due to the suspension of imports of live pigs and pork products by dozens of countries.
The US National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has stated that the US pork industry is almost on the verge of financial disaster and has called on everyone working in the pork industry to address “influenza outbreak misinformation”. The NPPC statement also adds that the media still make reference to the current influenza as “swine flu” despite the consensus of international scientific organizations, including the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Agriculture that this is not “swine flu”, but influenza A (H1N1).
Since the flu outbreak first hit the news headlines, producers have lost $6 per pig, which has cost the industry about $2.5 million per day, according to the NPPC.