Sask. hog farm workers catch new human/swine flu

Two workers from a large hog farm in eastern Saskatchewan have been confirmed to have a novel, “non-pandemic” strain of influenza A with genes from human flu and swine flu.

A third case is also under investigation, the Saskatchewan government said in a release Tuesday, adding that the affected workers have “fully recovered.”

According to a statement Wednesday from Health Canada, the two affected workers suffered only “mild illness.”

Initial testing of some of the pigs on the farm suggests the animals had been infected with the common swine influenza A virus, not the much-publicized pandemic strain of H1N1, the federal government said.

“There is no evidence that this new human strain of the virus is present in the swine herd.”

Scientists at the federal Public Health Agency’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg found the workers’ novel flu strain to be made up of genes from human seasonal flu and swine flu viruses, Health Canada said.

“It is not a new strain of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus currently circulating in Canada,” the department said.

“Preliminary results indicate the risk to public health is low and that Canadians who have been vaccinated against the regular, seasonal flu should have some immunity to this new flu strain,” federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in the same release.

“Dead end”

Furthermore, in most cases, these kinds of viruses are not transmitted readily between humans, resulting in a so-called “dead end,” the province said Tuesday. So far there’s “no evidence that this strain has transmitted between humans,” the province added.

The Public Health Agency said it’s collaborating with Saskatchewan public health officials on further surveillance of workers in Saskatchewan’s hog industry, including those on the affected farm, and is prepared to provide “field epidemiological assistance.”

The province said Tuesday that workers and animals at the hog operation will be “closely monitored in the weeks ahead.”

“Our ongoing surveillance detected the new strain, and we will continue to aggressively monitor and test Saskatchewan residents in the affected area,” the province’s chief medical health officer Dr. Moira McKinnon said Tuesday.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) added that it’s providing advice to the province on swine herd surveillance, and is also providing further diagnostic support to the initial testing from the national reference lab in Winnipeg.

The province said its precautions so far include “heightened surveillance” of humans and hogs alike, as well as reinforced biosecurity and vaccination of hog farm workers at the affected operation..

“We are working closely with CFIA to ensure that any risks from the virus are dealt with,” provincial chief veterinary officer Dr. Greg Douglas said Tuesday.

“It is important to remember that only healthy hogs go to slaughter and that pork is safe to eat,” Douglas added. “Influenza is not transmitted by eating pork products.”

However, “as required under the (World Health Organization’s) International Health Regulations, Canada has notified the WHO about the detection of this novel influenza virus,” Dr. David Butler Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday.

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