Questions about farms and North American Influenza (H1N1) in North Carolina
Is there a known outbreak of "swine" influenza in North Carolina pigs? What is being done to monitor for this disease?
The NCDA&CS State Diagnostic Lab has routinely monitored samples from the N.C. swine industry for all swine influenza viruses for more than 10 years. All influenza viruses are identified and any unusual ones are sent out for additional identification. With the hundreds of swine samples tested through our lab system, there have been no influenza viruses that match those causing the current human-to-human transmissions and illnesses.
What are farmers doing to prevent influenza viruses in their swine herds?
Livestock farmers are encouraged to strictly practice good biosecurity measures that are already swine industry best-management standards. This includes prohibiting on-farm access to visitors and any other non-essential personnel. Anyone who has been out of the country, especially if they visited any animal operations during their trip, should not be permitted on the farm for at least a 10-day time period. Other biosecurity measures include closely monitoring health of farm employees - both those at work and others at their homes, strictly following rules on entering and leaving animal areas (such as "shower-in, shower-out" or separate clothes and shoes for animal work areas), and disinfecting shoes, tires and other surfaces that travel between livestock and non-livestock areas. Farmers are also reminded to be especially vigilant in monitoring animal health and report sick animals immediately to their veterinarian. [See NCDA&CS press release for more guidelines]
Is the influenza virus fatal for pigs?
The current influenza virus causing human-to-human transmission and illness has not yet been found in any swine operations in the United States. Influenza that occurs in swine typically results in decreased production and increased costs to farmers but rarely causes death in pigs.
What should workers do to prevent catching influenza?
Because there are no known animal cases of the H1N1 human influenza outbreak in North Carolina at this time, standard good hygiene practices to prevent any disease transmission should be followed and emphasized for everyone. Be sure to wash hands often - scrubbing for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water. If you cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue or onto your sleeve rather than out into the room. If you are not feeling well, think you might have a fever, or have any other symptoms typical of a cold or flu, contact your local health department or family health care provider; do not go to work and potentially expose your co-workers.
I have a small herd of pigs. Can I get them tested for the influenza virus?
There is no need to test your pigs unless they are showing signs of illness. You should practice good biosecurity and be aware of who has access to your animals (see above). You should monitor the animals' health closely and call your veterinarian if you notice anything suspicious.
How do you know if a pig is sick?
Pigs exhibit much the same signs as humans when infected with an influenza virus, including coughing, discharge from the nose, sneezing, breathing difficulties and loss of appetite. Other signs include reduced fertility and elevated abortion rates in sows. Farmers who notice any of these signs should have a veterinarian check out the herd immediately to determine the cause of illness.
Is there a flu vaccine for hogs?
Yes, however, just like in humans, it is difficult to vaccinate against all strains of influenza. Therefore vaccinating does not always prevent a herd from being infected.
I live near a hog farm. Am I at greater risk? What should I do?
There is no reason to believe that you are at risk. The hog industry in North Carolina is continuously monitored for any swine influenza viruses by the NCDA&CS State Diagnostic Labs, with no influenza viruses found that resemble the cause of the current human influenza outbreak. The N.C. Department of Public Health states that human transmissions occur from human contact with human-contaminated surfaces and failure to follow good hygiene practices, particularly failure to practice frequent hand washing.
Is pork safe to eat?
Yes pork is safe to eat. According to the USDA, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, there is no known transmission of the virus through the consumption or handling of raw or cooked pork or pork products. Pork should always be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any food-borne germs that might be present. The current human influenza outbreak is not a not a food safety or animal health issue, according to U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.
There are a lot of trucks transporting pigs in my area. Can these trucks spread the disease?
Again, there is currently no evidence that swine in this country have the virus causing the current human outbreak. NC DPH has stated that transmission to humans is most likely to occur from humans contacting surfaces contaminated by infected humans. There are currently no human confirmed cases in North Carolina. Trucks transporting livestock cannot be considered a method of spreading to humans any disease that is currently found in livestock in the U.S.
What biosecurity measures should I put in place if I’m bringing seasonal workers onto the farm this summer? At what point is it safe to allow people who have visited areas where the virus has been confirmed.
Communicate daily with seasonal workers regarding their health and that of their family members. Prohibit any worker exhibiting flu like systems, or if any of their family members or close acquaintances who exhibit the same, from working in direct contact with swine for at least a week from the resolution of their illness, and assist them in seeing a health care provider. Prohibit any worker that has been out of the country from working directly with pigs for 14 days, assuming they remain in good health. If it is absolutely essential that a worker who has returned from foreign travel work with animals before a 10-day waiting period they should be required to use standard personal protective equipment when working directly with the pigs or inside animal housing.