By Frank James
It's now official: at least one pig in Minnesota has been confirmed to have had the swine flu virus, according to the Agriculture Department Monday.
A sample from a pig which was at the Minnesota State Fair has tested positive for the H1N1 virus infection by scientists using the most accurate methods available.
The Agriculture Department was quick to point out, however, that the presence of the virus in a show pig doesn't mean commercial herds are infected since show animals don't mix with their commercial cousins.
One big concern for the Agriculture Department and U.S. hog farmers is the impact the news of an infected pig might have on U.S. hog sales domestically and abroad. Sales could plunge amid unfounded fears that eating pork products can infect humans with the flu virus.
A major scientific worry is that the H1N1 virus, now that it's back in the pig population, could recombine its DNA with another virus pigs may be harboring and become an even more virulent strain. Of course, there's the possibility it could combine its genetic material with another virus and become less virulent too.
An excerpt from the Agriculture Department's press release:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) has confirmed the presence of 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus in a pig sample collected at the Minnesota State Fair submitted by the University of Minnesota. Additional samples are being tested.
"We have fully engaged our trading partners to remind them that several international organizations, including the World Organization for Animal Health, have advised that there is no scientific basis to restrict trade in pork and pork products," said Vilsack. "People cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products. Pork is safe to eat."
Sequence results on the hemagglutinin, neuraminidase and matrix genes from the virus isolate are compatible with reported 2009 pandemic H1N1 sequences. The samples collected at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair were part of a University of Iowa and University of Minnesota cooperative agreement research project funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which documents influenza viruses where humans and pigs interact at such as fairs.
The infection of the fair pig does not suggest infection of commercial herds because show pigs and commercially raised pigs are in separate segments of the swine industry that do not typically interchange personnel or animal stock. USDA continues to remind U.S. swine producers about the need for good hygiene, biosecurity and other practices that will prevent the introduction and spread of influenza viruses in their herd and encourage them to participate in USDA's swine influenza virus surveillance program.