National Report -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture, concerned about a perceived drop in swine disease samples from pork producers, is urging veterinarians to continue monitoring herds for a variety of diseases, including the H1N1 influenza virus.
-- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), concerned about a perceived drop in swine disease samples from pork producers, is urging veterinarians to continue monitoring herds for a variety of diseases, including the H1N1 influenza virus.
The pork industry is expected to lose billions by the end of the year. A steep drop in pork prices hit the industry in May, when the H1N1 virus was discovered. Though the virus still has not been found in U.S. swine herds, it initially was referred to as “swine flu,” and the name has stuck in popular culture. Some countries refused to import pork from North America and, despite efforts to spread the truth about the safety of pork, the reputation of swine was damaged for a time.
Influenza in swine has been circulating for some time, but so far has been detected only in a few Canadian herds. The USDA has urged producers and veterinarians to continue strict monitoring of U.S. herds.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned in recent weeks that the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus could move into U.S. swine herds by fall, so USDA is working to speed development of a swine version of a vaccine for the virus. The vaccine could be available by the end of the year, he says. A human H1N1 vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and will be available sometime in October.
The problem with monitoring swine herds is that many producers fear what virus discovery in their herds would do, says Ed Curlett, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) spokesman.
Even detection of other common strains of swine influenza, not H1N1, could cause problems if it is misunderstood in media reports, he says.
The USDA has been meeting with pork-industry partners, public-health authorities and government agencies throughout the summer trying to develop a strategy for if, or when, H1N1 comes to U.S. swine herds. The agency found that disease sample submissions in general, not just pertaining to H1N1, have decreased greatly from last year.
“Submissions are down because of fears of what could happen if they have the H1N1 virus,” Curlett says. “We’re trying to get the message out right now to producers that if there is a detection of the H1N1 influenza in their herd, once their animals recover they can move in commerce, they can go to slaughter. They won’t be penalized.”
With influenza viruses constantly changing, Curlett says it’s important the USDA track them to see how they may change again and determine the best way to deal with them.
“We’re trying to do surveillance just to learn more about influenza viruses and to help us in the future in both public and animal-health arenas it will lead to better vaccines and diagnostic tools,” he says. “We have our work cut out for us to get that message across.”