Health officials in Indiana report 113 new cases of H3N2 influenza since Aug. 8, and more are being reviewed.
The Ohio Department of Health also reported 15 more diagnosed case, which brings that tally to 30. In all cases, the individuals had direct contact with hogs at fairs and all of the people have recovered from the illness, officials report.
Nether state has found any human-to-human transmission of the virus, and overall the virus appears to be mild. Joe Bresee, medical epidemologist at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), points out that the only way to differentiate the H3N2 influenza virus from the seasonal flu virus is for an individual to be tested. "Based on clinical symptoms alone, they really are difficult or impossible to tell apart."
The expanded cases come on the heels of significantly expanded surveillance, which state health officials point to the reason for the reported increase.
“State animal health and public health officials in Indiana and Ohio have been working together to monitor influenza in pigs and people, points out Jennifer Koeman, National Pork Board’s director of producer and public health. “To minimize risks, several states have surveillance protocols in place to monitor animal exhibits at state, county, and regional fairs (such as checking for elevated body temperatures). Likewise, public health officials continue to monitor influenza-like illness in exhibitors and the community.”
Meanwhile, hog markets turned lower this week, and some traders have cited H3N2 influenza reports as part of the reason.
“We have some concern that the CDC put out an advisory on swine flu at county fairs,” Rich Nelson, research director for Allendale Inc. in McHenry, Ill., told Bloomberg News. “So, there’s also a little concern for U.S. pork demand.”
However, Koeman emphasizes, “Pork is safe. You cannot get the flu from eating or handling pork and pork products.”
Still, there’s no denying that influenza-related questions can produce concern within the pork sector. It was the quick and mis-leading association with hogs and the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus that lead to severe market repercussions, including export bans.
Looking beyond August a more likely reality driving the markets, which has nothing to do with influenza, is that hog slaughter seasonally trends higher into the fall months. That in turn pushes hog prices lower. Add in likely liquidation, not just of swine but also beef herds due to feed shortages triggered by this year’s drought, and near-term meat supplies will keep pressure on livestock prices.
Regarding influenza, fall also begins flu season, and Koeman reminds producers to monitor their pigs for any signs of flu-like illness and work with their veterinarians on appropriate health measures. NPB has put together a fact sheet for further guidance, available here.
Koeman and NPB recommends that all farm workers get the seasonal flu vaccine when it becomes available in the fall. “It's always wise for producers and swine farm workers to reduce the risk of getting sick and bringing the flu to the farm or workplace by getting vaccinated,” she adds. “It also demonstrates the industry's 'We Care' approach to protecting employees, animals and public health.”