OTTAWA – Pigs on a Canadian farm have been infected with the new swine flu virus — apparently by a farm worker back from Mexico — and are under quarantine, officials said Saturday. It is the first known case of pigs having the virus.
But officials quickly urged caution. Swine flu regularly causes outbreaks in pigs and the pigs do not pose a food safety risk, Dr. Brian Evans, executive vice president with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, told a news conference.
The officials said the pigs in the province of Alberta were thought to be infected by a Canadian farm worker who recently visited Mexico and got sick after returning to Canada.
The traveler has recovered, and the estimated 200 sickened pigs are recovering as well, officials said. No pigs have died, and officials said they don't think the flu has spread beyond the farm.
Normally, detecting influenza in pigs would not generate a response from food safety officials, but the current circumstances are different with the international flu outbreak, Evans said.
"The chance that these pigs could transfer virus to a person is remote," he said, adding that he would have no issue eating pork from the infected pigs.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Canada has taken the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. He said there have been no reports of the virus in U.S. pigs and noted the sick Canadian swine have been quarantined.
"This detection does not change the situation here in the United States," he said.
The World Health Organization has insisted there is no evidence that pigs are passing the virus to humans, or that eating pork products poses an infection risk.
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture and World Health Organization, along with the WTO and the World Organization for Animal Health, issued a joint statement Saturday saying there's no justification for any anti-pork trade measures as a result of the swine flu epidemic since there is no evidence the virus is spread by food.
The statement was the most emphatic yet from the United Nations and other agencies on the issue.
The statement came after major American pork importers like Russia and China banned pork products from certain U.S. states as the new swine flu spread. Indonesia, Ukraine and the Philippines and Serbia have banned certain pork products from the entire country.
Canadian officials called such measures unwarranted.
The pigs in Alberta were thought to be infected by a farm worker who returned from Mexico on April 12 and began working on the farm two days later. Officials noticed the pigs had flu-like symptoms April 24, Evans said.
Approximately 10 percent of the 2,200 pigs on the farm have been infected, Evans said.
Officials said the pigs were likely infected in the same manner as humans worldwide, and that the virus is acting no differently in the pigs than other swine flu viruses.
"Whatever virus these pigs were exposed to is behaving in that exact manner as those we regularly see circulating in North America and in swine herds in virtually every nation around the world," Evans said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that swine flu is common throughout pig populations worldwide, with 25 percent of animals showing antibody evidence of infection.
The new virus has shown no signs of mutation when passing from human to pig, Evans said.