Editors’ Picks: H1N1 crossover suspected in Argentina

Argentina believes it’s home to the second suspected case of humans passing the pandemic H1N1 flu virus to hogs, according to the Reuters news agency.

Reuters’ Helen Popper on Wednesday quoted an Argentine government spokesman as saying workers at a hog farm in Buenos Aires province are suspected to have passed the virus to the animals, 800 of which tested positive for the virus.

The farm was put under quarantine and according to the spokesman, tests for H1N1 have turned up negative since June 24.

“Our theory is that the pigs were infected by the farm workers who had had flu symptoms a week before the pigs started to show symptoms,” Reuters quoted the agriculture spokesman as saying. (Argentine government spokesmen generally ask not to be named, Popper noted.)

But the two suspected workers never saw a doctor, the spokesman said, so it hasn’t been established whether in fact the workers had H1N1.

Genetic tests have shown the new H1N1 strain is “clearly a pig virus,” Reuters said, although those who have caught it, got it from other people, not from animals.

Although not clinically proven, the Argentine case adds weight to the theory that the disease can cross over from humans to hogs.

The only other hog herd in the world known to have contracted H1N1 was in a farrow-to-finish operation near Rocky Mountain House, Alta., where a contractor working in the hogs’ barn in mid-April after a trip to Mexico had originally been suspected of passing the flu bug to the animals.

Blood work, however, later ruled out the carpenter as the carrier. Alberta health officials haven’t ruled out human-to-animal transmission, but don’t know who or what the carrier was.

The Alberta hog farmer, Arnold Van Ginkel, culled the entire herd of around 2,000 animals last month. Facing overcrowded barns and an indefinite federal quarantine, he opted to euthanize the herd on-farm for animal welfare reasons.

As of June 29, Canada’s federal Public Health Agency reports 7,983 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 in people, mostly in Ontario (3,161), Quebec (1,834), Alberta (880) and Saskatchewan (739). Nationwide, 25 people have died who have been confirmed to have had the influenza strain.

A total of 89,921 human cases of H1N1 have been reported worldwide to the World Health Organization as of Friday, including 382 deaths. The U.S. has by far reported the most cases (33,902), followed by Mexico (10,262), Canada, the U.K. (7,447) and Chile (7,376).

Argentina by July 3 had reported 1,587 human cases of H1N1, including 26 deaths, to the WHO. According to Reuters, the Southern Hemisphere’s peak flu season is approaching and Argentine officials now plan to bring forward school holidays.

— The “Editors’ Picks” feature will highlight eyebrow-raising and unusual-yet-true news from the world of farming, as gleaned from various sources by the editorial staff of the Farm Business Communications division.

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