However hogs on a farm in central Alberta came down with the human H1N1 virus, it wasn’t from the carpenter who until now has been presumed to have passed it to the animals.
The Canadian Press news agency on Sunday quoted Howard May, the southern Alberta spokesperson for the province’s health and wellness department, as saying blood tests show the carpenter did not introduce H1N1 to the hog herd on the Arnold Van Ginkel farm near Rocky Mountain House.
The carpenter, who’d worked for half a day at the farm in mid-April after returning from a trip to Mexico, returned home with a flulike illness.
May told CP that provincial health officials are now coming to believe they may never find out how the virus made its way into the herd.
Despite the popular use of the term “swine flu” to describe the human variant of H1N1, Van Ginkel’s hogs are believed to be the only ones anywhere on Earth to have tested positive for the new virus, CP said.
“Someone else must have brought it in, but it is unlikely we will ever be able to pinpoint exactly who,” CP quoted May as saying.
Van Ginkel has since culled all the hogs on his farm for animal welfare reasons as the hogs had remained under Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) quarantine and could not be shipped off-farm.
CP also quoted Dr. Jim Clark, the national manager for disease control for CFIA’s animal health division, as saying the agency’s lab in Winnipeg could only isolate live viruses from the pigs at the start of the investigation, when genetic sequencing showed the hogs’ viruses to be “virtually identical” to those circulating in people.
Clark told CP that CFIA would like to be able to find out how the pigs got infected, but so far “we haven’t been able to get a whole lot of information” from human health agencies involved, possible for privacy reasons. At the same time, the agency doesn’t want to put the farm family under even more stress.
It’s likely scientists will get another crack at finding out how this virus crosses between people and pigs when it inevitably jumps into some other hog herd elsewhere in the world, Clark said.
“But whether farmers will admit to it is another issue,” CP observed, noting pork sales are already down and H1N1 took a heavy financial and personal toll on the Van Ginkels.
As of Monday afternoon, the H1N1 virus is confirmed by testing to have spread to 4,049 people in all 10 provinces and three territories, with most cases in Ontario (1,907), Quebec (971), Saskatchewan (327) and Alberta (264), according to the federal Public Health Agency. Among all cases, seven people in three provinces have died while carrying the virus; 212 people have been hospitalized.
Worldwide, as of Monday afternoon, 76 countries have reported a total of 35,928 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 in people, including 163 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most cases have been in the U.S. (17,855), Mexico (6,241), Canada and Australia (1,823).
As for the role of hogs in what’s now officially a human health pandemic, Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reiterated Thursday that H1N1 “is indeed a public health issue for all worldwide but so far the role of animals has not been demonstrated in its epidemiology or spread.”
In light of the WHO’s declaration of H1N1 as being in phase 6 of an influenza global pandemic, the OIE said it “maintains its previous recommendations made to animal health authorities worldwide.”
Specifically, the OIE recommends countries “effectively monitor” their animal populations. It also reiterated that pork and pork products, handled in accordance with good hygienic practices, are “not a source of infection.”
The OIE also reiterated various countries’ bans on hogs and pork from countries with human H1N1 cases are “pointless and do not comply with international standards published by the OIE and all other competent standard setting international bodies for animal health and food safety.”
As well, the OIE advised member countries that hog culls “will not help to guard against public or animal health risks presented by this novel A/H1N1 influenza virus and that such action is not recommended.”