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CFIA won’t quarantine hogs for H1N1

Any Canadian hog herds that come down with the pandemic strain of H1N1 won’t face the same quarantines as one of the few herds in the world known to have caught the virus.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said Friday its policy on hogs with H1N1 will be based on previous recommendations of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) on this specific flu strain. “Based on this knowledge and information, the CFIA will not quarantine herds,” the agency said.

CFIA’s decision follows the quarantine it slapped on a hog herd near Rocky Mountain House, Alta., earlier this spring.

The herd was believed to have caught the virus from a person, although the visitor previously suspected of bringing the virus to the farm from Mexico has since been ruled out as the carrier.

None of the animals that came down with H1N1 died from it, but the federal quarantine dragged on as positive tests continued to turn up within the herd.

Faced with an indefinite quarantine and overcrowded facilities, the hogs’ owner, Arnold Van Ginkel, eventually culled all of his 2,000-plus animals last month for animal welfare reasons.

From now on, CFIA said, affected animals “will be managed using the same veterinary management and biosecurity practices employed for other swine influenza viruses.”

That means “limiting opportunities for (H1N1) to spread to susceptible animals,” the agency said, noting pork slaughter plants have “multiple inspection points to ensure that only healthy animals enter the food supply.”

Surveillance continues

All herds in which H1N1 is detected will be monitored to verify that infected animals recover. As well, CFIA added, surveillance for the presence of H1N1 in swine will continue, so as “to detect any changes in how the virus affects swine and to identify any changes in the structure of the virus.”

Hog producers, the agency said, “are encouraged to reinforce biosecurity measures at their facilities.”

CFIA said the OIE, based on research and observations of the pandemic H1N1 flu strain in swine, has found no food safety risk associated with the virus.

As well, CFIA noted, there is “no evidence at this time that animals are playing a significant role in the spread of the virus in the general human population.”

Two CFIA inspectors who were on the Alberta farm in April are reported to have later contracted the virus, though the agency told news media last week that it can’t say for certain that the two people’s illnesses crossed over from hogs or just came from other people.

Furthermore, the agency said, H1N1 “does not behave any differently in pigs from other influenza viruses commonly detected in swine herds.”

The only other case worldwide in which the virus is suspected to have crossed over from humans to hogs was reported in Argentina earlier this month.

The H1N1 virus continues to move through the Canadian population, which has turned up substantially more lab-confirmed cases than most other countries, except for Mexico and the U.S.

As of July 18, Canada’s federal Public Health Agency reported a total 10,449 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 in people across the country, including 1,141 hospitalizations. As of Thursday, 55 people in Canada have died due to H1N1 since the strain’s arrival in this country.

Worldwide, meanwhile, the World Health Organization said Friday that the number of human cases of pandemic H1N1 is “still increasing substantially in many countries, even in countries that have already been affected for some time.”

As of July 6, the WHO had reported 94,512 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 in people worldwide, including 429 deaths.

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