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H1N1 (Swine Flu): Something Else to Worry About?!? What Happens When Animals And People Start Exchanging H1N1? Turkeys In Chile, People Infecting Pigs


I have been following this story when it was first suspected in Chile last week. The genetic studies of the viruses are now in and it has been confirmed that workers infected a flock of Turkeys in Chile with H1N1.  Wow!

Pandemic H1N1 virus is present in turkeys in 2 farms near the seaport of Valparaiso,  Chile
Pandemic H1N1 virus is present in turkeys in 2 farms near the seaport of Valparaiso, Chile

The detection of an H1N1 virus in turkeys in Chile raises concern that poultry farms elsewhere in the world could also become infected with the pandemic flu virus currently circulating in humans, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said today.

Chilean authorities reported on 20 Aug 2009 that the pandemic H1N1/2009 virus was present in turkeys in 2 farms near the seaport of Valparaiso, Chile. The flu strain found in the poultry flocks is identical to the H1N1/2009 pandemic strain currently circulating among human populations around the world.

No immediate threat to humans

“However, the discovery of the virus in turkeys does not pose any immediate threat to human health and turkey meat can still be sold commercially following veterinary inspection and hygienic processing. The reaction of the Chilean authorities to the discovery of H1N1 in turkeys, namely prompt reporting to international organizations, establishing a temporary quarantine, and the decision to allow infected birds to recover rather than culling them is scientifically sound,” said FAO’s interim chief veterinary officer, Juan Lubroth. Once the sick birds have recovered, safe production and processing can continue.

Disease monitoring

Turkeys like pigs are safe to eat when properly cooked
Turkeys like pigs are safe to eat when properly cooked

The current H1N1 virus strain is a mixture of human, pig and bird genes and has proved to be very contagious but no more deadly than common seasonal flu viruses. However, it could theoretically become more dangerous if it adds virulence by combining with H5N1, commonly known as avian flu, which is far more deadly but harder to pass along among humans.

Chile currently does not have H5N1 flu. However in South East Asia, where there is a lot of the virus circulating in poultry, the introduction of H1N1 in these populations would be great concern.

Why is this a concern?

This phenomenon is called genetic reassortment or recombination that may happen in case of simultaneous viral infections of any of the hosts. This is now the 4th country that is investigating the spill-over of H1N1/2009 virus from farm workers showing flu-like illness to animals, with swine becoming infected in Canada, Argentina and, most recently, Australia.

The emergence of new influenza virus strains capable of affecting humans and domestic animals remains a broader, more general concern that is being closely monitored by the FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Net-Net?

Whenever viruses can exchange genetic material mutations can occur and new diseases created – just like the emergence of the novel H1N1 strain.

ProMED Digest V2009 #406 –


I read with interest an article that appeared in the NY Times last week on protecting pigs in fairs from the infectious public…another example of ways that two species exchange genetic material.

Help Us Protect The Piggies

Keeping pigs and people apart is safer for BOTH!
Keeping pigs and people apart is safer for BOTH!

At the Oregon State Fair, pigs will be kept behind barriers, taller-than-usual fences and off-limits walkways. The state veterinarian is also urging visitors to stay six feet away. Why?  The flu with a twist: state officials hope to insulate the pigs from sick people.  “Help us protect the piggies,” signs at the fair will read in pink.

The pandemic novel H1N1 strain is turning upside down traditional health concerns at agricultural exhibitions and state and county fairs around the country.

At the state fair in Iowa, visitors are barred from holding piglets, and in North Carolina, the state veterinarian, Dr. David T. Marshall, has advised fair visitors to wash their hands upon leaving — and entering — pig barns.  “The whole idea of the animals getting sick from people is a foreign concept to people, but that’s what we’re looking at here,” said Dr. Marshall.

The H1N1 pandemic virus has genetic strands of human (1 part), swine (5 parts) and avian (2 parts) virus.  Although its genetic structure technically makes the new strain a “swine flu,” experts say, it has not been found in pigs in this country or most elsewhere, aside from a few herds in Canada, Argentina and Australia. In those cases, epidemiologists suspect that people working on farms may have infected the pigs around them.

Why is this an issue?

Learning about the new swine flu at the piggery at the fair
Learning about the new swine flu at the piggery at the fair

This is a bit of a broken record.  The virus is not believed to be particularly deadly to pigs, scientists say, nor, according to the USDA chief veterinary officer and others, can it cause any risk for people eating pork. The bigger issue is that pigs act as “mixing vessels” for human and avian flus, possibly leading to a more dangerous strain.

Stay tuned…who knows what is coming next?!?!?

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