Minnesota Pig Infected With H1N1 Flu
Federal officials say there's no danger in eating pork products
MONDAY, Oct. 19, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A pig that was shown at the Minnesota State Fair two months ago has tested positive for the H1N1 virus, making it the first case of a pig contracting the virus in the United States, federal officials said Monday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the presence of the virus after an initial test indicted that as many as three pigs at the fair may have been infected, the Associated Press reported.
Federal agriculture officials expected the H1N1 virus to infect domestic pigs this year. Pig infections have already been reported in Canada, Australia, Argentina, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Norway.
The three pigs did not show signs of sickness, and officials said they likely contracted the virus from some of the nearly 1.8 million people who visited the fair, the news service said.
The chances of a pig infecting a person with swine flu is considered remote. But, the animals can act as "mixing vessels" if they catch two different strains of the disease at the same time, potentially giving rise to a mutated version of the flu. Officials said there's no evidence that that has happened, the AP said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release Monday that the USDA has started to contact U.S. trade partners and international organizations to emphasize that H1N1, also known as the swine flu, can't be contracted by eating pork products.
"We have fully engaged our trading partners to remind them ... that there is no scientific basis to restrict trade in pork and pork products," Vilsack said. "People cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products. Pork is safe to eat."
On Friday, U.S. health officials reported that 11 more children had died from H1N1 swine flu during the past week.
Adding to the seriousness of the situation, manufacturing problems have delayed production of the H1N1 vaccine. Instead of reaching a goal of 40 million doses by the end of October, fewer than 30 million doses will be available, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a Friday afternoon press conference.
"The delays the manufacturers have will have a substantial impact for the states in their planning efforts. We are seeing more and more vaccine become available -- we wish it were more than it is, but at least we have some," she said.
Schuchat said 86 children have died from the H1N1 swine flu since the virus emerged last spring, with 43 of those deaths coming in September and early October alone. That underscores the concern that swine flu is particularly dangerous for children and young adults who may not have immunity to the disease. During the past three years, deaths among children from the regular seasonal flu ranged from 46 to 88 annually.
"These are very sobering statistics," she said.
What's also surprising, Schuchat said, is that about half of the children who have died since the end of August were teenagers. Health officials thought younger children were more vulnerable.
The swine flu is widespread in 41 states, up from 37 states last week, Schuchat said, and "illness, hospitalizations and deaths continue to increase."
Despite the delays in vaccine production, more doses are expected weekly, Schuchat said. "We are all going to have to bear with the situation. We wish we had better ways to produce the vaccine perfectly."
Currently, 11.4 million doses of the vaccine are available, and 8 million of those doses have been ordered by the states, Schuchat said. Ultimately, the government hopes to dispense 190 million doses by the end of the year, federal officials have said.
The first doses of swine flu vaccine, which became available earlier this month, were in the form of a nasal spray called FluMist, which is for people 2 to 49 years old who are not pregnant and do not have chronic medical conditions. Now, slightly more than half of the vaccine doses are in injectable form, which makes the vaccine available to more people, Schuchat said.
In addition to children, those who should be near the front of the line for a swine flu shot include pregnant women, people who care for young children, health-care workers, and people with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
Schuchat also urged people to get vaccinated for the regular seasonal flu. Eighty-two million doses of the seasonal flu vaccine have been distributed, with a total goal of 114 million doses. "So 71 percent of the doses that are going to be produced have already been distributed," she said.
Schuchat added that it's not too late to get a seasonal flu shot since the seasonal flu season has not yet started, and the H1N1 flu continues to be the dominant strain in circulation.
For more on H1N1 swine flu, visit Flu.gov.