VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A traveler carried the new H1N1 virus from Mexico to Canada, infecting his family and a herd of swine, Canadian health officials said on Saturday.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency stressed the incident posed no threat to the food supply.
It said the herd in the western province of Alberta apparently caught the virus from a carpenter who traveled recently to Mexico, the epicenter of a swine flu outbreak that has spread to 18 countries and may have killed more than 100 people, all but one in Mexico.
“A Canadian carpenter who had been in Mexico, upon return, was exhibiting flu-like symptoms, did work on the Alberta farm, and subsequently the family and swine on the farm became ill,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
It was the first time the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had reported a case of the virus being transmitted from a human to a pig in Canada, although this has been known to happen elsewhere.
The agency said the infected herd was quarantined pending more testing “but that the chances the pigs could transfer the virus to humans was remote.”
“The safety of the food supply is not affected and Canadian pork continues to be safe to eat,” it added. It said all the infected pigs had recovered or were recovering.
Canada has had more than 70 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in humans, all mild and involving recent travelers to Mexico or those who had contact people who had been there.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Canada was talking with its trading partners, adding that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had assured him Canada would continue to have access to the American market.
“We will continue to work with our American partners as we deal with this issue,” Ritz said in a statement. “The case identified in Alberta is entirely contained. There is no threat to human or animal health.”
Vilsack downplayed the impact of the Canadian outbreak on the United States, saying there had been no reports of infections in U.S. pigs and that pork and pork products were safe to eat.
“Canada has handled this situation appropriately and taken the necessary steps and precautions,” he said in a statement.
But Canadian farmers expressed concerns that more of the country’s trading partners might impose restrictions on pork.
The Philippines, El Salvador, Honduras and Ukraine have stopped accepting Canadian pork since the H1N1 scare. South Korea is not accepting live hogs.
“What’s happened here is what we feared,” said Jurgen Preugschas, an Alberta hog farmer and president of the Canadian Pork Council.
“Ultimately it shouldn’t affect the industry long-term. It’s all perception. The meat is safe. (But) it’s going to be a lot of hype in the short term.”
Flu viruses do not affect the safety of pork, according to the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which warned on Saturday against imposing trade restrictions on pig or pig products.
The WHO on Thursday changed its references to the strain from “swine flu” to simply the generic A/H1N1 after pressure from the FAO and the pork industry, including Canadian farmers.
Reporting Allan Dowd in Vancouver and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by John O'Callaghan