In a media briefing Thursday morning, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed the department’s preparations for the upcoming fall flu season and reminded media of the importance of accurate reporting when referring to the new flu strain.

Vilsack stressed the importance for media to transition completely from the use of “swine flu” in their reporting to use of H1N1 when referring to the novel influenza strain.  “The media is causing undue and undeserved harm to America’s agriculture industry and especially to U. S. pork producers who are experiencing severe economic losses in these challenging times,” said Vilsack. “Every time the flu is misrepresented, it makes it more difficult for pork producers as well as others in rural communities who suffer as well.”

Vilsack went on to explain that some media outlets still refer to the illness as “swine flu” which is both inaccurate and unfair to pork producers and consumers. “Some media outlets have been responsive and sensitive in their reporting but there has not been a concerted effort to do a good job in characterizing this properly,” he said. “It’s a novel virus and the most appropriate way to refer to it is H1N1.

Vilsack explained that the novel H1N1 influenza has not been detected in the U.S. swine herd; even if it were, Vilsack stressed that people cannot contract the H1N1 illness from consuming pork or pork products. Vilsack explained that it is possible the H1N1 virus will be found in swine. To prepare for the possibility, USDA has implemented a monitoring and surveillance program with all stakeholders for rapid and efficient diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to increased surveillance and H1N1 monitoring, USDA has also taken steps for rapid development of a vaccine for protecting swine. “We are making a master seed virus available for the 2009 pandemic H1N1 flu available to veterinary biologics manufacturers to allow rapid production of a vaccine to protect swine herds,” explained Vilsack. The USDA has provided the master seed virus to five veterinary biological manufacturers.

 “If the disease is found in U.S. swine, we will work with state officials, veterinarians and pork producers to prevent the spread of the virus.” When it comes to flu, swine react much as people do, said Vilsack. “The vast majority recover without any lingering health effects.” Vilsack stressed that only animals which have fully recovered go on to market for slaughter.

Vilsack asked for media cooperation in properly referring to the flu as H1N1 to avoid consumer confusion and worry. “Family farmers struggle every day to take care of their families and it’s not fair and it’s not right to improperly refer to the illness as swine flu. “I sincerely hope that the media makes a concerted effort to make the transition to referring to the illness as H1N1.”

“The U.S. pork industry is grateful to Secretary Vilsack for his strong words to the media about using the term H1N1,” said National Pork Producers Council President Don Butler. “With the fall flu season weeks away, it is imperative to the livelihoods of America’s 67,000 pork producers that the novel H1N1 influenza be referred by its proper name.”

Listen to some of the Vilsack comments from AgriTalk:

Also, see the H1N1 Resource Center on Porkmag.com.