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H1N1 arrives in Manitoba hogs

The pandemic flu strain H1N1 has crossed over to hogs in various areas of Manitoba, causing only “very mild” effects in assorted feeder barns, nursery barns and sow barns.

The Manitoba agriculture department’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Wayne Lees, delivered that assessment last week on ProMed, an online archive operated by the Massachusetts-based International Society for Infectious Diseases.

No animal deaths have been reported in any affected herds due to the virus, which so far has been blamed for the deaths of at least 2,185 people worldwide as of Aug. 23.

“In the herds where the virus has been detected the disease was very mild, with pigs showing only slight signs of respiratory illness — mild cough and nasal discharge, depressed feed intake and rectal temperatures up to 40.5°C (104.9°F),” Lees reported.

Affected animals then “recovered uneventfully” within four to seven days of the illness’ onset, he wrote, noting the virus infected piglets born to infected sows and “subsequently moved through the production channels to nursery, feeder and finisher sites.”

H1N1 was first suspected in a sow barn where sows that had already been vaccinated against common swine flu strains started showing flulike symptoms. Provincial and federal labs later confirmed the novel H1N1 virus.

Those cases appeared in June, according to a report Wednesday in the Winnipeg Free Press quoting Lees.

Lees’ ProMed report didn’t provide any specifics on how the flu strain may have arrived in Manitoba barns, but he noted that letters have been sent to hog producers encouraging them to maintain “strict biosecurity measures” for herd and worker health.

“Maintaining usual biosecurity safeguards will reduce the possibility of spread into the barn, and between barns.”

No quarantines

While H1N1 has been commonly referred to as “swine flu” by many major media organizations, relatively few cases have so far been documented in hogs, including animals in Alberta and Quebec and others in Argentina and Australia.

H1N1 behaves no differently in swine than other flu viruses commonly found in hogs, Lees noted, and there’s no evidence that suggests animals play a significant role in the spread of the virus in the human population.

In the first reported cases of the virus in a herd in Alberta earlier this spring, a federal quarantine was imposed that led to the hogs’ owner culling all the animals out of concern for overcrowding.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency in July announced it would no longer impose quarantines nor order culls for herds found to have H1N1.

Pork-importing nations that previously imposed bans on Canadian and U.S. pork when H1N1 turned up in people are now reacting more calmly, Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson told the Reuters news service Wednesday.

“The importing countries are recognizing this disease for what it is and are following recommendations of international bodies like the World Health Organization, who have said pork is safe to eat,” Dickson told Reuters. “You can’t get the flu virus from eating pork.”

The Canadian Press news agency on Wednesday quoted a new Harris-Decima survey in which 90 per cent of respondents agreed, saying they believe there’s no risk of H1N1 from handling or eating pork. Just six per cent felt there was such a risk.

About 87 per cent of respondents said they are consuming pork about as often as they did before H1N1 was labelled a pandemic, CP reported.

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