Monday, 4 May 2009

Pigs may infect humans with Swine flu

It is not confirmed yet but one worker is already suffering from flu,
and more pigs are sick of the swine flu.

Discovery of new swine flu in Alta. pigs raises spectre that worries

9 hours ago

The discovery of the new swine flu in pigs on an Alberta farm raises a
spectre that worries influenza experts: the possibility of the virus
moving back and forth between humans and pigs, giving it more chances
to mutate along the way.

About 220 pigs in a herd of 2,200 began showing signs of the flu April
24, Canadian officials revealed over the weekend. A farmhand who
travelled to Mexico and fell ill upon his return is believed to have
infected the pigs with the H1N1 influenza virus.

While the development did not come as a surprise to the World Health
Organization or other experts, they expressed concern.

"We expected that at some point since this virus has swine virus
elements that we would find possibly the virus in swine pigs in the
region where the virus is circulating," Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO
food safety scientist, said Sunday from Geneva.

Measures should be taken to prevent further human exposure to sick
animals because of a risk people around the pigs could become
infected, Embarek said.

"It has happened in the past with classical swine influenza," he said.

Dr. Ruben Donis, head of the molecular genetics branch of the
influenza division at the US Centers for Disease Control, said the
movement of a virus from one species to another creates more
opportunities for mutations.

While it isn't a given that any changes in the virus would mean it
becomes more virulent - causes more severe disease - that cannot be
ruled out, he said.

"It's possible," Donis said in an interview from Atlanta. "We have to
consider all options."

Donis was especially concerned about the virus getting seeded in pig
populations on small farms that don't have the same level of
biosecurity as larger operations.

Another worker on the Alberta farm subsequently fell ill, but it's not
yet known if that person caught the swine flu.

The herd in central Alberta has been quarantined, and all of the pigs
are recovering or have recovered. The farm worker has also recovered.

Meanwhile, Mexico's health secretary declared the swine flu outbreak
to be declining in his country, though health officials warned against
complacency in combatting the spread of the disease.

There are no recommendations at this point from various agencies to
cull pigs in Alberta or anywhere in the world, Embarek said.

He reassured the public that the virus is not a food-borne disease,
saying there is no reason to be afraid of consuming pork products.

In Egypt police and armoured cars charged into a crowd of a 1,000
irate pig farmers armed with stones and bottles Sunday.

Twelve people were injured as residents of a Cairo slum resisted
government efforts to slaughter the nation's pigs to guard against
swine flu.

Dr. Christopher Olsen, a swine flu expert at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, said having this H1N1 influenza A virus go back
into swine creates opportunities for it to pick up genetic mutations
or swap genes with other flu viruses. The latter process is called

"Putting it back into pigs creates more potential for genetic
reassortment than in people alone," he said from Madison, Wis.

Canada's swine flu caseload swelled Sunday to 101 after health
officials in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba Quebec, Ontario and
Nova Scotia reported new confirmed cases. Worldwide the WHO confirmed
787 cases in 17 countries.

But even as the tally of people infected with swine flu continued to
rise Sunday - at least six other countries reported new cases -
Mexico's health secretary said the swine flu epidemic in his country
"is now in its declining phase."

Jose Angel Cordova said data suggest the epidemic peaked sometime
between April 23 and April 28, and that drastic measures - closing the
nation's schools, shuttering most of its businesses and banning mass
public gatherings - apparently have helped curb the flu's spread.

But Gregory Hartl, the WHO spokesman for epidemic and pandemic
diseases, cautioned against any premature declarations.

"That might be certainly what the current epidemiology is showing," he
said from Geneva in response to Cordova's comments.

"I also would like to remind people that in 1918 the Spanish flu
showed a surge in the spring and then disappeared in the summer
months, only to return in the autumn of 1918 with a vengeance."

It is estimated that upwards of 50 million people died in that

Hartl said there is a "high possibility" this H1N1 influenza A virus
will come back in colder periods.

"Maybe this current round of activity has peaked, but really, we are
only 10 days into the outbreak so we must wait and see," he said.

The death toll in Mexico remains at 19, and the number of confirmed
cases has increased slightly, from 473 to 506.

Cordova said 12 of the dead were between 21 and 40 - unusual ages for
people to die of the flu because they tend to have stronger immune

Three of the dead were children: a nine-year-old girl, a 12-year-old
girl and a 13-year-old boy, said Pablo Kuri, a Mexican epidemiologist
and adviser to Cordova. Four were older than 60.

Although most of the dead were from the Mexico City area, they came
from different neighbourhoods in the metropolis of 20 million, and
there were no similarities linking their medical backgrounds.

One theory for the deaths is that perhaps they sought treatment too
late - falling sick an average of seven days before seeing a doctor.
Many of the sick around the world were people who had recently visited

In China more than 70 Mexican travellers were quarantined in hospitals
and hotels as part of that country's sweeping anti-swine flu measures.

Mexicans were being asked to identify themselves on arriving flights
and isolated from other travellers after landing, Jorge Guajardo, the
country's ambassador to Beijing said Sunday.

Not even the country's diplomats have been immune. The Mexican consul
general in the southern city of Guangzhou was briefly held for checks
after returning from a Cambodian vacation last week, Guajardo said.

- With files from The Associated Press

Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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