K-State Research and Extension News
May 05, 2009
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Kansas State University Scientists Shed Light on Myths Surrounding H1N1 Virus


MANHATTAN, Kan. – In just a few short days, an amazing amount of information and misinformation on the Influenza A H1N1 virus -- initially called swine flu -- swept through global commodity and financial markets and right into peoples’ televisions, computers and everyday conversations.

 

To help separate fact from fiction, Kansas State University Research and Extension veterinarian Larry Hollis, along with K-State Extension state leader and swine specialist Mike Tokach and K-State swine veterinarian Steve Dritz answered some questions about the virus:

 

·         Are people in the United States catching the H1N1 virus from pigs? There have not been any reports of pig-to-human transmission in the U.S. There have not even been any reports of H1N1 Influenza’s existing in any swine herds in the U.S. All human disease incidence reports to date have been from human-to-human transmissions.  

 

·         How are people catching the disease? At this time, the only known source of where people have gotten the disease is from other humans. When healthy people are exposed to a person infected with the H1N1 virus, they may potentially become infected.  

 

·         Why was the H1N1 virus initially called swine flu? A portion of the genetic material in the H1N1 virus is identical to that seen in cases of swine influenza several years ago.  The H1N1 genetic material of the virus is also made up, however, of portions that originated as human influenza cases and other portions that originated as past avian influenza cases. Genetic material from all three  sources have re-assorted to develop the current Influenza A H1N1 strain causing human disease.  Since the largest portion of the genetic material was from swine, it was termed swine flu without its ever being documented as being in or transmitted from a pig.

 

·         What should we be calling the virus that causes this disease? The World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stopped using the term “swine flu” and have begun calling it by the correct terminology, Influenza A virus H1N1.

 

·         Are swine in the United States sick or dying from this H1N1 virus? No U.S. herds have had any reported health-related problems with this H1N1 Influenza virus. There are other strains of influenza in some swine herds, but these strains typically do not cause human disease and are dealt with in the swine herd primarily through effective vaccination programs.

 

·         Should swine producers be concerned about their animals’ catching the disease? Yes.  Swine farms should reinforce their biosecurity efforts and make sure that employees and visitors follow all biosecurity procedures, in an effort to keep people from bringing the virus into their herds. Since we do not have evidence of this H1N1 virus in US swine herds, we do not want it to infect US swine herds now. This could even provide a potential chance for the virus to recombine with another influenza virus strain in the pig. And, each time influenza viruses combine across strains, it increases their potential to cause disease.

 

·         Is it true that a pig in Canada caught the virus from a person? Yes.  Pigs on a farm in Canada have apparently caught the H1N1 Influenza virus from a person returning to the farm from a recent visit to Mexico.

 

·         Can I get infected with this new H1N1 virus from eating or preparing pork? No. H1N1 viruses are not spread by food, so you cannot get this new HIN1 virus from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.

 

·         How many people die every year in the U.S. from all of the various strains of the human Influenza A virus? Researchers at the CDC estimate 36,000 people per year die from influenza-related infections

 

More information is available on the WHO Web site at http://www.who.int.en/, the CDC Web site at  http://www.cdc.gov, and the USDA Web site at http://www.usda.gov. Information is also available on the Extension Disaster Education Network Web site: http://www.eden.lsu.edu.

 

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K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Mary Lou Peter
mlpeter@ksu.edu
K-State Research & Extension News

Larry Hollis, K-State Research and Extension veterinarian – 785-532-1246 or lhollis@ksu.edu; Mike Tokach, K-State Research and Extension swine specialist – 785-532-2032 or mtokach@ksu.edu; Steve Dritz