Mary Fleming says swine and poultry producers should be among those near the top of the priority list for H1N1 inoculations as well as shots for seasonal flu. Transmission of the disease from humans to pigs or poultry could be devastating to the nation’s food supply, she points out. Furthermore the presence of both flu organisms in a host is what leads to the possible mutation of the disease to something more potent and dangerous, she says.
“There is a huge connection between health care and swine industry,” she points out. “We use heart valves from pigs in transplants. Studies on the endocrine-producing islets of Langerhans in pork have helped us make big strides in understanding and treating diabetes,” she says.
She should know. She heads up the Agricultural Health Program as a registered nurse at Grady Hospital in Delaware, Ohio. She is the only full time agricultural nurse in the state. She has contact with some 6,000 people a year including farmers and others in agriculture. She gives presentations ranging from farm first aid and safety to safe pesticide handling. She developed a training program for dealing with grain entrapment. It has been translated into four languages. She helps farmers who have been disabled use technology and equipment to return to their work.
It is a unique job and she is uniquely prepared to do it. The wife of a dairy farmer, Fleming grew up on a farm herself. She raised 4-H animals and helped with farm chores and field work. She broke and trained an Arabian horse that was born on her family farm. She still has 21 dairy goats and a pumpkin patch on the farm.
The trouble is the program she heads up is suffering from the state’s budgetary squeeze. It appears that funding will run out at the end of the month. It is part of a financial bind that has impact many of the state’s rural hospitals. With fewer patients the hospitals carry less clout and have a smaller pool of resources.
“All it would take is $100,000 to continue this outreach program,” she says. “If I can find five sources willing to put up $20,000 each we could continue this work.”
Fleming was presenting her case to Ohio Farm Bureau delegates last week in hopes the organization would be one of those that steps forward.
“If I can save one life, I can make the return on that investment worthwhile,” she says.
Agriculture is well recognized as one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. It would seem like a valuable step to hang on to one of the few people who specialize in making it safer.