by BETTER FARMING STAFF
The Ontario Veterinary College’s chair of population medicine urges swine operators and their staff, as well as those working in poultry barns to obtain vaccinations for the H1N1 flu virus as soon as they can.
“There has been a lot of hype on the radio about maybe this vaccine is going to have side effects,” says Cate Dewey, who is also a professor of swine health management. “We’ve heard from lots of people that the vaccine is safe,” she says, adding swine workers administer vaccines themselves and know that a few days of discomfort are preferable to “being ill for five days or seven days with this virus.”
Dewey says there have now been many documented instances of the virus passing through pig farms in Canada. Last week, the Ontario Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care and Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced the virus had also been detected in birds at a barn owned by Kitchener-based breeder, Hybrid Turkeys. The company was alerted to a disease outbreak after noting egg production had fallen. It contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the diagnosis was confirmed Oct. 23.
Provincial medical officials have emphasized there is no risk to public health; the birds and eggs from the infected barn were not in the food chain.
It is the second instance of the virus being found in turkeys. The first was reported in Chile.
In all cases, swine and turkey, people are suspected of transmitting the virus to animals, says Dewey. There have been no accounts of pigs passing the virus to people. There is no evidence that birds can transmit the virus to people.
The flu does not appear to cause severe illness in pigs, she says. In barns affected by the virus, about 10 per cent of the animal populations fell ill. Symptoms are mild and swine recover in a few days.
“We wouldn’t expect that this virus would kill any pig, but just like in people, if the pig already had pneumonia and already had some severe respiratory problem, then this could be the thing that would kill the pig,” she says.
Ernest Sanford, a swine specialist with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica (Canada), notes that limited testing of commercial flu vaccines for pigs have only shown partial protection against the new flu strain. Just what percentage that protection might be is not clear.
He says there is concern “that if it (H1N1) gets into pigs it could mix and change in the pig much more readily than it would, say in humans and then another type of virus could come out” that could affect pigs and possibly humans.
That same concern is what informs routine annual advisories to hog and poultry operators to get flu vaccinations, he adds.
The risk of the virus mutating into something more harmful to animal or human populations is not high. Mutation goes on all the time, in all species; most “don’t go anywhere,” he explains. “I think that workers should get vaccinated or people in contact with pigs should get vaccinated; I think that’s mostly a protection for the pigs, even though it seems to be a very mild disease in pigs at this time.”
Dewey adds that deciding to stay away from animals if you’re ill is not an effective, or perhaps even realistic strategy compared to vaccination. She notes that if a virus outbreak occurs, usually many people fall ill at once. That means an ill person may end up having to feed the animals. BF