Saturday, October 17, 2009

Do Pigs Catch Swine Flu?

October 17, 2009

Can pigs catch swine flu (a.k.a. Pandemic Influenza A:H1N1)? In a word, YES.

Since the swine flu pandemic began earlier this year, there have been several reports of swine herds becoming infected with the swine flu virus after coming into contact with an infected farm worker.

The first report – in June 2009 – of human-to-pig transmission of this virus strain came from Alberta, Canada. Since then, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and, most recently, the United States have discovered this strain of influenza virus in one or more swine herds. A second Canadian province – Québec – also has reported an infected herd.

Can infected swine pass the virus to humans? Probably.

While there is no iron-clad proof so far of swine-to-human transmission, two Canadian government workers are thought to have become infected with the pandemic swine flu virus as a result of their close contact with the infected Alberta herd. The workers had been furnished with protective gear to use while obtaining samples from the infected herd, but had not been shown the proper way to wear it. A different swine flu virus also was reported to have passed from infected pigs to humans at a county fair in Ohio (USA) in 2007.

Can the virus be passed to poultry and other birds? Definitely.

The pandemic swine flu virus strain was found in a flock of turkeys in Chile.

Does eating meat from infected pigs or poultry put you at risk of catching swine flu? In a word, NO.

Influenza is a respiratory virus. Slaughterhouse workers may be at risk of infection from inhaling aerosols generated during slaughter of the animals and handling of the carcasses.

But the virus – as USDA assures us – is not normally present in muscle meat.

Also, according to the World Health Organization, cooking meat to an internal temperature of 160ºF (70ºC) will inactivate any stray virus particles that might find their way into meat.

The bottom line?

Pigs can, and do, catch the flu from people. People probably can catch the flu from close contact with infected live pigs. There will be a lot of opportunities during this pandemic for people to catch the flu. But eating properly cooked pork is not one of them.

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