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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Swine Flu Alert: Is It Safe to Eat Pork?


What is swine influenza?

Swine influenza, or “swine flu”, is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs, caused by one of several swine influenza A viruses.  Morbidity tends to be high and mortality low (1-4%). 

The virus is spread among pigs by aerosols, direct and indirect contact, and asymptomatic carrier pigs.  Outbreaks in pigs occur year round, with an increased incidence in the autumn and winter in temperate zones.  Many countries routinely vaccinate swine populations against swine influenza.

Swine influenza viruses are most commonly of the H1N1 subtype, but other subtypes are also circulating in pigs (e.g., H1N2, H3N1, H3N2).  Pigs can also be infected with avian influenza viruses and human seasonal influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. 

The H3N2 swine virus was thought to have been originally introduced into pigs by humans. Sometimes pigs can be infected with more than one virus type at a time, which can allow the genes from these viruses to mix. This can result in an influenza virus containing genes from a number of sources, called a "reassortant" virus. 

Although swine influenza viruses are normally species specific and only infect pigs, they do sometimes cross the species barrier to cause disease in humans.

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What are the implications for human health?

Outbreaks and sporadic human infection with swine influenza have been occasionally reported. Generally clinical symptoms are similar to seasonal influenza but reported clinical presentation ranges broadly from asymptomatic infection to severe pneumonia resulting in death.

Since typical clinical presentation of swine influenza infection in humans resembles seasonal influenza and other acute upper respiratory tract infections, most of the cases have been detected by chance through seasonal influenza surveillance. Mild or asymptomatic cases may have escaped from recognition; therefore the true extent of this disease among humans is unknown.

Where have human cases occurred?

Since the implementation of IHR(2005)1 in 2007, WHO has been notified of swine influenza cases from the United States and Spain. 

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