It’s flu season, and that means it’s time for influenza vaccinations. That recommendation is not just for the general public, it is also important for farm personnel and others who have contact with pigs in order to help protect human and pig health.

Influenza is a common virus and the concern involving birds, pigs and people is the potential exchange of virus and the reassortant prospects.

"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," says Jennifer Koeman, director of producer and public health for the National Pork Board. "It also demonstrates the industry's 'We Care' approach to protecting employees, animals and public health."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, all people over the age of 6 months of age should be immunized for influenza each year. DHHA reports that in 2010 just 43 percent of the U.S. public received flu vaccinations.  Researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted a survey of pork industry participants, heavily weighted toward swine veterinarians, and found that 57 percent of participants said they always receive the annual influenza vaccine. That’s not bad, but for total pork industry workers, the rate is likely lower. 

Survey participants cited the following reasons why they didn’t get vaccinated: Do not have time (17 percent), not concerned about influenza infections (16.2 percent), not convenient to receive the vaccine (14 percent), prefer natural exposure to the influenza virus (9 percent), did not see any benefit to vaccination (8 percent). Also, 6.5 percent were worried about side effects, 5.5 percent said the vaccine wasn’t available and 5 percent thought the vaccine wasn’t effective. Of those respondents who did not get vaccinated, 10 percent said they could not be convinced to receive it in the future.

What would convince the other 90 percent? If the vaccination process was convenient, free, required by employer; pandemic or new strains emerged; the vaccine had no side effects, was more effective and if it could be administered other than through an injection.

"People may remain contagious for up to five to seven days after getting sick," Koeman notes. "That's why it's so crucial that employers have a sick-leave policy that encourages those experiencing symptoms of influenza-like illness to stay home."

At the farm level, good building ventilation and thorough hygiene practices can help reduce transmission of flu viruses. Thorough and frequent hand washing—with hot water and soap—is the best first line of defense.

"To prevent pigs and humans from other species' influenza viruses, producers also should look at bird-proofing their buildings, protecting feed from birds and enforcing biosecurity practices, such as the use of farm-specific clothing and footwear," Koeman adds.

According to Lisa Becton, DVM, NPB’s director of swine health information and research, "It's very important to monitor your herd's health daily and contact your herd veterinarian if influenza is suspected. Rapid detection of influenza can help producers and their veterinarians implement appropriate strategies to better manage sick pigs."

Additional general flu-related information can be found at www.cdc.gov/flu. NPB also has a factsheet on influenza, "Influenza: Pigs, People and Public Health."

Source: National Pork Board