“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” has long been a pork production mantra. The same can be said for herd health issues, and there is no more challenging one facing the industry today, and possibly this fall, than the Type A H1N1 influenza virus. While that’s not because the virus is raising havoc with actual swine health, it is because it has raised havoc with pork demand and export sales.

To be crystal clear, there have been no cases of Type A H1N1 influenza virus infections found to date in the U.S. swine population. Of course, everyone involved in the pork industry, particularly producers and veterinarians, wants to keep it that way. But to be sure of that, and to reassure U.S. pork’s trading partners, surveillance testing for the virus is necessary.

In early July, USDA came out with a voluntary surveillance plan, designed to monitor the U.S. swine herd for Type A H1N1 exposure. Appropriately called “H1N1 Flu Outbreak Virus Surveillance Plan,” it will involve many of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network laboratories. For hogs, the diagnostic laboratories most likely to be called upon are located within Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, Kansas State University, North Carolina State University, Purdue Univeristy and South Dakota State University. But any other qualified NAHLN laboratory can submit samples into the surveillance program, points out Liz Wagstrom, DVM, National Pork Board’s assistant vice president of science and technology.

Again, the surveillance plan is voluntary, so before any test would occur, the veterinarian and the producer client would have to literally sign off, providing written acceptance to run the Type A H1N1 diagnostic test.

Your state veterinarian will be responsible for interpreting the surveillance plan as well as the “Guidelines to Response” in the event of a positive test. The objective is to minimize the viral spread of Type A H1N1 among hogs as well as human exposure.

“USDA is talking with state veterinarians, as well as state and national public health authorities about their response plans,” Wagstrom points out. “They are working to move the process forward briskly, and we hope that it will be complete sometime in August.”

The three streams that USDA has identified for which this virus surveillance would occur include:

  • Swine herds that are epidemiologically linked to human cases of Type A H1N1 influenza virus.
  • Hogs showing influenza-like symptoms at the first point of concentration, such as a sale barn or exhibition.
  • Swine respiratory disease submissions to veterinary diagnostic laboratories that include voluntary written agreement to participate in the H1N1 Flu Outbreak Virus Surveillance Plan.

Due to the vast economic impact on the U.S. pork industry from the April Type A H1N1 influenza outbreak when it was undeservingly labeled “swine flu,” it’s understandable that producers and veterinarians alike might be a bit timid in raising their hands to say “test my herd.” But, surveillance of this virus is important to the industry’s long-term health and marketing strategies.

“It will be important not only for animal health but also for our trading partners and public health colleagues, for participation in the surveillance program to be robust and representative of the U.S. swine herd,” Wagstrom emphasizes.

She adds that the surveillance plan is set up to identify new or unusual isolates, as well as to characterize currently circulating swine influenza virus strains, not just to look for Type A H1N1 exposures. “This data can be used when developing new diagnostic tests or updating influenza vaccines,” Wagstrom says.

This is an important effort and it’s a topic worth discussing with your veterinarian today, before you are pressed to make a decision as samples are getting prepared to ship off to a diagnostic laboratory.