Soon after the emergence of the H1N1 virus in April 2009, Agricultural Research Service scientists at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, began research using virus samples provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first step was to evaluate whether current U.S H1N1 swine influenza vaccines can protect pigs from infection with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus circulating in people. This research study also evaluated whether pre-existing titers in pigs previously infected with endemic H1N1 swine influenza viruses circulating in the U.S could protect against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

Classical swine influenza virus infections are enzootic among pigs in North America. Sporadic cases of human infection with swine influenza virus have been reported in the United States and elsewhere. Worldwide, more than 50 human cases of swine influenza virus infection, mostly due to classical swine influenza virus, have been documented in the past 35 years, with the greatest risk of infection among people with occupational exposure to live pigs.

Experts believe pigs can act as a "mixing vessel" for the reassortment of avian, swine and human influenza viruses, and might play an important role in the emergence of novel influenza viruses that could be capable of causing a human pandemic similar to the virus in the current outbreak.

Between the 1930s and the 1990s, the most commonly circulating swine influenza virus among pigs-classical swine influenza A, known as H1N1-underwent little change.

However, by the late 1990s, multiple strains and subtypes of triple reassortant swine influenza viruses-whose genomes include combinations of avian, human and swine influenza virus gene segments-had emerged and became predominant among North American pigs. The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus is also a triple reassortent, but its lineage is different than the H1N1 influenza viruses currently circulating in U.S. pigs.

Read more about USDA's H1N1 update, including current status and future efforts.

For more information, visit Pork Magazine's H1N1 Special Section.