Hybrid Influenza (Swine Flu) Outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) held a press conference this afternoon on the hybrid influenza (Swine Flue) outbreak which was originally announced about 10 days ago.  WHO raised the pandemic flu alert level from phase 3 to 4.  Level 3 indicates the circulation of an animal or human/animal virus with limited human transmission.  Level 4 is verified human-to-human transmission with community outbreak, but confined to a specific geographic area allowing for the use of a “ring” strategy to confine the spread of the virus to that area through use of antiviral medications or vaccines if available.  Level 4 indicates an increase in the risk of a pandemic, but does not necessarily mean a pandemic will occur.  The emerging new virus originated in Mexico, where more than 100 people have died.

The U.S. government has declared a public health emergency to deal with the virus. This declaration is a precaution to allow the federal and state governments easier access to flu tests and medications. According to a press release from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napilotano, approximately 12 million doses of the drug Tamiflu are being released from a federal stockpile so that states will have necessary supplies. Sixty cases of the hybrid flu strain have been diagnosed in the U.S., confirmed across five states.  All U.S. cases were spread by human-to-human contact; preliminary investigations have determined none of the U.S. citizens infected with the hybrid flu had contact with swine.  More information is posted on the webpage created by the Center for Disease Control (CDC):  http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack reiterated in a statement yesterday that a network of federal veterinarians, state animal health officials and private veterinary practitioners are regularly involved in monitoring U.S. swine for disease symptoms. To date, there are no reports an influenza virus is circulating in the U.S. swine herd.  USDA has posted a Q&A about Swine Influenza A (H1N1) at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/04/0131.xml.

On Thursday, the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold an “emergency” hearing to address concern over the potential  spread of this flu to the broader U.S. population and ensure that all the agencies responsible for protecting the public’s health are coordinating “ to avert a potential disaster.”  The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a similar hearing on Wednesday morning titled “Swine Flu: Coordinating the Federal Response.”

Russia has suspended imports of all meat, shipped after April 21, from Mexico and the U.S. states of Texas, California and Kansas on fears of the spread of swine flu. The suspension also applies to pork shipped after April 21 from the U.S. states of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Florida, and the nations of Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador.  China has suspended it pork imports from Mexico and from the states of Texas, New York, California, Ohio and Kansas shipped after Apr. 21.  Pork is safe to eat and the U.S. swine herd is not infected with the hybrid Mexican influenza, according to the CDC and USDA. Officials with federal agencies responsible for human health say there are no food safety issues related to the hybrid flu.  There is no evidence that this virus is transmitted by food.  Swine producers should double-check biosecurity procedures to prevent introduction of the disease and are encouraged to intensify normal animal health monitoring.