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NDSU Extension Service, Published August 22 2012

Keep pigs healthy to prevent spread of new flu strain

FARGO - Swine producers need to take steps to make sure their animals are healthy to prevent the spread of a new flu strain, North Dakota State University Extension Service swine specialist David Newman says.

During the past several weeks, some fairs and exhibitions have reported cases of humans being infected by the H3N2v virus, which is linked to swine exposure.

Two hundred twenty-five humans in nine states have been infected with the strain this year. None of those cases were in North Dakota, Newman says. Indiana has the highest number, 138, followed by Ohio with 72.

The H3N2 viruses occur in pigs but usually do not infect humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than half of the recent human H3N2v infections have occurred after contact with pigs. Health experts believe flu viruses spread from infected pigs to humans in the same way seasonal influenza viruses spread between people: mainly through infected droplets created when an infected pig coughs or sneezes.

The CDC says some evidence indicates people also might get infected by touching something that has virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose. A third way people may get infected is to inhale dust containing the flu virus.

In some of the human cases, the virus seems to have spread from person to person, but so far, the spread has not continued beyond one or two people, the CDC says. The symptoms and severity of the H3N2v illness have been similar to seasonal flu.

Newman recommends producers:

* Observe their pigs daily for signs of disease or infection. If they spot flulike symptoms, they should contact their veterinarian.

* Follow strict biosecurity practices at all times. That includes isolating new animals from their herd for at least 30 days or the length of time the herd veterinarian recommends.

* Transport only healthy animals to sales, fairs, shows or exhibitions.

* Clean and disinfect trailers and equipment before and after transporting pigs.

Newman has this advice for minimizing the risk of flu transmission between pigs and people:

* Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often, especially after coughing, sneezing or coming in contact with animals.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

* Do not eat or drink near animals or animal pens.

"Remember, pork is safe," Newman says. "You can't get the flu from eating or handling pork. The U.S. has safeguards in place to protect our food. Every pig is inspected to ensure that only healthy animals become part of our food supply."