September 2, 2009 / 3:46 PM / 8 years ago

Flu virus found in Canada hog herds

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The H1N1 pandemic flu virus spread in June to several hog farms in the Western Canadian province of Manitoba, but the hogs later recovered and there was no cause for concern, the province’s chief veterinary officer said on Wednesday.

The virus was discovered in several Manitoba herds, including sow barns, nursery barns and feeder barns in various locations in the province, said Dr. Wayne Lees in an interview.

“Pigs get influenzas just like people do,” he said. “The important thing for the general public (to know) is there’s no risk from pork.”

More herds are likely to become infected this fall if an expected second wave of the pandemic appears, Lees said.

Manitoba is Canada’s top pig-producing province with 9 million born annually.

The herds were not quarantined, but their movement was limited to prevent the virus’s transmission to other herds, Lees said.

No flu-related pig deaths occurred. The infected sows, piglets, feeder and finished pigs recovered within four to seven days of becoming sick.

Lees first reported the infection in the August 24 ProMED newsletter of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, but it only became more widely known on Wednesday.

The virus was initially detected at the end of June and probably spread to the hogs by human contact, Lees said.

No animal went to slaughter while sick, he said. Some of the pigs have been processed -- with inspections before and after slaughter -- while younger pigs have returned to their barns.

In April, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) quarantined a hog farm in the province of Alberta -- the first in the world to become infected with the pandemic virus. The CFIA has since decided it will no longer quarantine herds but will monitor them to make sure the animals recover.

The owner of the Alberta pigs slaughtered them because packers refused to accept them. But meat packers and export markets have reacted with less alarm since the initial outbreak, said Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council.

“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 said. “You can’t get the flu virus from eating pork.”

About a dozen countries placed trade restrictions on Canadian pork following the virus’ spread to the Alberta farm, but some have since lifted bans.

Hogs in Australia and Argentina have also since tested positive for the pandemic flu.

“It’s popping up all over the place,” Dickson said.

The North American hog industry has been hit hard by its association with the H1N1 flu, which health officials initially labeled “swine flu.” Trade restrictions have pressured prices, while Canadian farmers have also seen exports of live pigs to the United States shrink because of the restrictive country-of-origin labeling law.

Editing by Marguerita Choy

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