If you haven’t already made the move, you might want to ensure that you and your employees get a flu shot. National Pork Board officials are recommending that approach for this year’s flu season, and it’s not too late to get the task done. Flu season officially runs from October to May.

“Producers and swine-farm workers can reduce the risk of bringing flu to the farm and infecting the pigs that they care for by getting a flu shot,” says Liz Wagstrom, NPB’s assistant vice president of science and technology.

Influenza viruses can be classified as type A, B and C. Type A influenza can be passed between people and pigs. “The flu shot contains two type A viruses that we want to prevent from spreading,” notes Wagstrom. “The vaccine also has a type B virus in the mix, but it’s not of concern to pigs’ health. Humans will develop antibodies against the flu virus two weeks after taking the flu shot.”

There are other steps that can reduce the chance of infecting pigs with human influenza viruses. Among those is to modify sick-leave policies to encourage workers to stay away from the farm if they are suffering from acute respiratory infections. “Virus shedding is at its peak when the clinical illness is most severe, but it can last as long as the symptoms do and that is from three to seven days,” says Wagstrom.

Swine-farm employees are often tempted to go into work when they’re ill— especially if the individual is pulling a weekend shift and worried about having to trade and ultimately lose a weekend off.

Proper building ventilation and hygiene also will reduce transmission of flu viruses. Wagstrom suggests some other steps:

  • To prevent pigs and humans from being exposed to influenza viruses of other species, you should bird-proof buildings.
  • Treat the water supply if there’s a chance it could be contaminated with bird fecal material.
  • Protect feed supplies from birds.
  • Enforce biosecurity practices such as the use of farm-specific clothing and footwear.

  For more information, a fact sheet titled “Influenza: Pigs, People and Public Health” is available from NPB. You may call (800) 456-PORK, or go to www.porkboard.org and look under “Hot Topics” and “Producer/Public Health.”