With the pork industry already suffering major financial stress from 18 months of operating losses, the recent outbreak of Type A H1N1 influenza came at the worst possible time. Although the virus has not been found in pigs, it is estimated the disease has cost the industry nearly $500 million due to the misnaming of the condition as “swine flu.”

The disease was a major topic of discussion at the World Pork Expo held last week in Des Moines, Iowa. Preventing the Type A H1N1 virus from entering the country’s swine herd is critical to the pork industry. The coming fall and winter flu season may increase the risk. 

It was announced last week that USDA is taking steps to make a viral master seed available to develop vaccines that protect swine from the Type A H1N1 influenza. In addition, it has been announced that a human vaccine may be available by October.

Meanwhile, producers must continue to take every precaution in protecting their herds against introduction of the virus.

Keeping the virus out of the herd was a topic for conversations, seminars, and conferences at the Expo. “The goal for us as an industry is to enhance mitigation steps that will prevent transmitting the Novel H1N1 virus to pigs,” says Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health programs for the National Pork Board.

Already leaders in biosecurity practices, the swine industry must be increasingly vigilant in maintaining control measures to protect pigs from infectious agents. “We have always been very proactive in limiting inter-species transmission of any disease in the swine industry,” says Webb. “To date, our biosecurity practices have been very effective in protecting the herd.”

Being vigilant about worker health is one critical component of biosecurity. If a worker has been exposed to a family member who has been diagnosed with influenza they have to be extremely careful. “Going into barns should definitely be avoided at that point,” says Liz Wagstrom, assistant vice president of science and technology for NPB. “It’s so very important that we protect the pigs right now from this influenza and prevent transmission of the virus.”

“If a worker has been exposed to influenza from a friend or family member and they must enter a swine barn, they really need to be wearing a valveless, well-fitted N-95 respirator which will help prevent aerosol emitted from a sneeze being transmitted to the pigs,” says Wagstrom. If a person has body aches or is running a temperature they may be pre-symptomatic for a flu infection. A sneeze increases the danger of virus transmission.

Employees must also be instructed how to put on, position, adjust, and remove respirators. In addition, the NPB recommends that all swine barn workers receive flu vaccination in the fall.

See more biosecurity measures recommended by NPB