Flu Declared Pandemic, Animals Not Playing Role

While the H1N1 influenza virus continues to spread among humans worldwide, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) stated there is no evidence at this time that animals are playing any role in the epidemiology or spread of the flu virus, which was raised to the level of pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 11, 2009. The pandemic is characterized globally as being moderate in severity.

Public and animal health experts worldwide continue their joint effort on scientific research aimed at better understanding the virus and providing recommendations for its prevention and control. The OIE is in the process of expanding the scope of its current Reference Laboratories for avian influenza to include expertise on all animal influenza viruses and emphasize research on the behavior of these viruses at the human-animal interface. The OIE/Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) global network, called OFFLU, already extended its scope of actions by including influenza viruses’ diagnosis and research in pigs.

Taking into account all available scientific information, the OIE considers that the recommendations issued since the first appearance of the pandemic H1N1 virus are still valid. They are re-emphasized below.

• National veterinary services must ensure a high level of awareness in the veterinary and producer community and effectively monitor animal populations for clinical signs of respiratory disease, use appropriate confirmation diagnostic methods, and rapidly report the initial occurrences of the disease in animals to the OIE by using the qualification of “emerging disease.”

• Should the presence of the pandemic H1N1 virus be detected on a farm, the holding should be subject to a surveillance plan and movement restrictions applied until recovery; the transfer of clinically healthy pigs from the farm to the slaughterhouse can be done using basic bio-security measures.

• The culling of pigs will not help to guard against public or animal health risks presented by the virus. As for any other disease, slaughtering of sick pigs for human consumption is not recommended.

• The imposition of ban measures related to the import of pigs and pig products from countries with human or animal cases are pointless and do not comply with international standards published by the OIE and other competent standard setting international bodies for animal health and food safety.

• In the case of countries deciding to cull pigs on the basis of the principle of precaution, culling of animals should always be carried out in accordance with OIE international standards on animal welfare and killing methods for disease control purposes (Volume 1; Section 7; Chapter 7.6 of the Terrestrial Animal Health Code, www.oie.int/eng/normes/mcode/en_chapitre_1.7.6.htm).

• Pork and pork products, handled in accordance with good hygienic practices recommended by the WHO, FAO, Codex Alimentarius Commission, and the OIE, are not a source of infection from the virus.

U.S. Estimates One Million Flu Cases
Although the Centers for Disease Control is reporting over 40,000 “confirmed and probable” cases and 263 deaths from the H1N1 flu in the U.S. population as of July 17, 2009, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta, GA, said the agency now estimates one million Americans have been sickened with this flu strain this year. The great majority of cases are people who have not been tested.

In a transcript posted by the CDC, Schuchat said they are seeing high rates of illness among people under 50 years old, with the highest rates in those under 25. The median age of hospitalized cases is 19, while the median age of those who have died from the flu is 37, “still quite young for anyone to be dying of an infectious disease,” Schuchat stated. She added that five manufacturers are working on vaccines for this strain of influenza, with clinical trials to happen this summer. CDC is also closely watching the Southern Hemisphere, which is entering its usual flu season, to see how H1N1 cases evolve there. R

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August 2009 RENDER | back