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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian scientists have mapped the full genetic sequence of the H1N1 virus that infected a herd of pigs in the western province of Alberta, and confirmed it matched the virus spreading in people around the world.
In a statement Friday evening, Canada's Food Inspection Agency said their sequencing would help scientists understand the virus better, including how it affects animals.
More than 8,400 human cases of the H1N1 virus have been confirmed since the virus appeared last month, and 66 people have died. The illness, which scientists initially called swine flu, appears to have started in Mexico.
There have been about 500 cases of H1N1 flu in Canada. The herd of pigs contracted the virus through what appeared to be an unusual case of person-to-animal transmission, and it is this strain that the Canadian scientists mapped.
"Researchers are now focusing on how the H1N1 flu virus affects swine," the agency said.
"Although more study is needed, early observations suggest that infected animals become sick and recover naturally, just as they would if exposed to influenza viruses commonly seen in swine herds at a global level."
The statement said Canada would share its research with other countries and international agencies to help with surveillance and detection.
"Ongoing CFIA research is examining whether or not other animals are susceptible to the virus. This information may be used to refine disease prevention and control measures," it said.
"Studies are also underway to assess the effectiveness of current vaccines, and to develop better and faster diagnostic methods."
The spread of the H1N1 virus has led the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic is imminent. On April 29 it raised its pandemic alert to 5 on a 6-level scale.
Reporting by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Paul Simao