Central Alberta hog farmers are being urged to step-up “biosecurity” measures after pigs at an Alberta farm came down with the same virus that sickened people around the world.
Since humans can transmit the disease to the animals, the province’s 450 pig producers are being warned to keep ill people and unnecessary visitors away from their hogs.
Farmers who have come in contact with pigs, other than their own, should stay out of their barns for 48 hours, states an Alberta Pork release issued on Sunday.
Alberta Pork executive-director Paul Hodgman said most producers, especially those who supply breeding stock, are already very careful about not introducing health risks to their barns.
For instance, the majority of farmers routinely quarantine in-coming pigs for a month so problems can be identified before they enter the main herd.
But even more stringent precautions, included posted protocols, are now being urged to preserve Canada’s international trade relations and prevent further cases of Alberta hogs getting the virus.
China announced a ban on Alberta pork product imports Sunday, after about 220 pigs from a herd of 2,200 on a farm located somewhere between Calgary and Edmonton began showing signs of the flu on April 24. Provincial officials were notified on April 28, and the barn was quarantined and remains on quarantine.
Despite assurances that Alberta pork is safe — health and agriculture officials have stated that the Type A H1N1 virus can’t be transmitted through eating meat or other pork products — several smaller trading partners, including Honduras, also stopped importing Alberta pork.
Hodgman said China is considered one of Canada’s larger export markets, but the U.S. is the biggest and, so far, has no problem with Alberta pork products.
While he’s disappointed by the import bans, he hopes other countries will weigh the facts and not over-react, as has happened in Egypt, where people rioted Sunday over a decision to kill pigs there.
The infected Alberta hogs got a mild form of the virus and have either already recovered, or are recovering from the flu.
The Alberta farm worker, who came back from Mexico and introduced the virus to the hogs, is also in fine health now.
Hodgman said the worker was not a Mexico native.
It wasn’t necessary to cull any of the infected pigs, said Hodgman, because, while bacteria, such as E-coli can survive for a time on animal meat, viruses can’t.
“They need living hosts. They don’t go into animal meat.”
Unlike the BSE bacteria that stopped Alberta’s beef exports for months, he added the H1N1 virus has a very short incubation time, which is typical for an influenza virus.
While human deaths have been linked to the virus in Mexico, other countries seem to have imported only a mild version of the sickness. Seven new cases were reported in Alberta on the weekend, increasing Alberta’s human cases to 15. But none of these people have required hospitalization.
Hodgman praised the disease reporting protocols Alberta pork producers operate by, which worked well in identifying the sick animals this time.
He noted most pig barns have shower facilities for people entering and leaving, as well as clothes that are only to be worn by people inside barns.