K-State Vets Help Sort Fact from Fiction of H1N1 Virus

Misinformation on influenza virus causes market problems.

Published on: May 5, 2009

In just a few short days, an amazing amount of information and misinformation on the Influenza A H1N1 virus -- initially called swine flu -- swept through global commodity and financial markets and right into peoples´ televisions, computers and everyday conversations.

To help separate fact from fiction, Kansas State University Research and Extension veterinarian Larry Hollis, along with K-State Extension state leader and swine specialist Mike Tokach and K-State swine veterinarian Steve Dritz answered some questions about the virus:

Are people in the United States catching the H1N1 virus from pigs?
There have not been any reports of pig-to-human transmission in the U.S. There have not even been any reports of H1N1 Influenza´s existing in any swine herds in the U.S. All human disease incidence reports to date have been from human-to-human transmissions.

How are people catching the disease? At this time, the only known source of where people have gotten the disease is from other humans.

When healthy people are exposed to a person infected with the H1N1
virus, they may potentially become infected.

Why was the H1N1 virus initially called swine flu? A portion of the
genetic material in the H1N1 virus is identical to that seen in cases
of swine influenza several years ago. The H1N1 genetic material of
the virus is also made up, however, of portions that originated as
human influenza cases and other portions that originated as past
avian influenza cases. Genetic material from all three sources have
re-assorted to develop the current Influenza A H1N1 strain causing
human disease. Since the largest portion of the genetic material was
from swine, it was termed swine flu without its ever being documented
as being in or transmitted from a pig.

What should we be calling the virus that causes this disease? The
World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
have stopped using the term "swine flu" and have begun calling it by
the correct terminology, Influenza A virus H1N1.

Are swine in the United States sick or dying from this H1N1 virus?
No U.S. herds have had any reported health-related problems with this
H1N1 Influenza virus. There are other strains of influenza in some
swine herds, but these strains typically do not cause human disease
and are dealt with in the swine herd primarily through effective
vaccination programs.

Should swine producers be concerned about their animals´ catching
the disease?
Yes. Swine farms should reinforce their biosecurity
efforts and make sure that employees and visitors follow all
biosecurity procedures, in an effort to keep people from bringing the
virus into their herds. Since we do not have evidence of this H1N1
virus in US swine herds, we do not want it to infect US swine herds
now. This could even provide a potential chance for the virus to
recombine with another influenza virus strain in the pig. And, each
time influenza viruses combine across strains, it increases their
potential to cause disease.

Is it true that a pig in Canada caught the virus from a person?
Yes. Pigs on a farm in Canada have apparently caught the H1N1
Influenza virus from a person returning to the farm from a recent
visit to Mexico.

Can I get infected with this new H1N1 virus from eating or
preparing pork?
No. H1N1 viruses are not spread by food, so you
cannot get this new HIN1 virus from eating pork or pork products.
Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.

How many people die every year in the U.S. from all of the various
strains of the human Influenza A virus?
Researchers at the CDC
estimate 36,000 people per year die from influenza-related infections

More information is available on the WHO Web site at
http://www.who.int.en/, the CDC Web site at http://www.cdc.gov, and
the USDA Web site at http://www.usda.gov. Information is also
available on the Extension Disaster Education Network Web site:
http://www.eden.lsu.edu.