Good biosecurity can help producers keep swine flu in check

University Park, Pa. -- The strain of swine flu suspected of sickening dozens of people in the United States and killing more than 150 in Mexico is a new strain that has never been found in U.S. swine herds, and an animal-health expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences says if producers follow proper biosecurity measures, they will help minimize the risk to hogs and humans.

"Various forms of swine flu potentially can infect humans, but it is very rare -- maybe one or two cases a year in the United States," said Jacob Werner, assistant professor of veterinary medicine and dairy and animal science, who is Penn State's attending veterinarian for agricultural animals and wildlife. He noted that such cases usually are the result of humans coming into close contact with pigs, such as in a barn.

He emphasized that swine flu is not transmitted through meat, and even if it was, proper cooking would kill any pathogens.

"Reports indicate that the H1N1 virus in the current outbreak is a recombinant strain that mixed with avian and human flu strains," Werner said. "Unlike most swine flu strains, it can be transmitted from person to person, but it's unclear whether it can pass from people back to pigs. Until we know more, our best advice to producers is to be vigilant and step up your biosecurity.

Werner said that Penn State tests its swine herd quarterly for influenza and follows stringent biosecurity practices to protect against all infectious diseases. He recommends the following procedures for producers:

--Because flu viruses can be transmitted from humans to pigs, keep anyone with flu-like symptoms -- fever, cough, body aches, vomiting or diarrhea -- away from your hogs. Workers exhibiting these symptoms should stay home and not enter swine facilities for at least seven days.

 --Limit entry to your swine facility to employees and essential service personnel. Prevent people who have traveled outside the United States from entering, even if they have not had contact with animals overseas.

 --Workers should shower before entering and upon leaving your facility and should wash their hands frequently.

 --Anyone working in barns should use a face mask or respirator, eye protection and gloves.

 --Have pigs vaccinated against influenza, and encourage workers to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu virus.

 --Report to your veterinarian if pigs have a fever or show signs of respiratory illness -- coughing, nasal discharge -- and have been exposed to people who have any flu-like symptoms.

 

Last Updated May 04, 2009