Despite The Continuing Spread Of H1N1, Pork Products Remain Perfectly Safe

I just received an update from the CDC, confirming there are now 896 cases of H1N1 (Swine Flu) in 41 states. Interestingly, here in Arkansas (where I spent the last two days mingling with outstanding health professionals), there hasn’t been a single case.

Here’s the current national tally:

•  Alabama:  4
•  Arizona:  48
•  California:  106
•  Colorado:  17
•  Connecticut:  4
•  Delaware:  38
•  Florida:  5
•  Georgia:  3
•  Hawaii:  3
•  Idaho:  1
•  Illinois:  204
•  Indiana:  15
•  Iowa:  5
•  Kansas:  7
•  Kentucky:  2
•  Louisiana:  7
•  Maine:  4
•  Maryland:  4
•  Massachusetts:  71
•  Michigan:  9
•  Minnesota:  1
•  Missouri:  4
•  Nebraska: 4
•  Nevada:  5
•  New Hampshire:  2
•  New Jersey:  7
•  New Mexico:  8
•  New York:  98
•  North Carolina:  7
•  Ohio:  5
•  Oklahoma:  1
•  Oregon:  15
•  Pennsylvania:  2
•  Rhode Island:  2
•  South Carolina:  17
•  Tennessee:  2
•  Texas:  91 (and 2 deaths)
•  Utah:  8  
•  Virginia:  11
•  Washington:  23
•  Wisconsin:  26

In any event, despite the spread of H1N1 throughout the country, I simply wanted to note, once again, that pork products, and Arkansas, remain perfectly safe...

It is also (in my mind) equally important to point out that, wherever we live, we shouldn’t let the flu ruin our fun. Despite 26 confirmed cases in Wisconsin, I look forward to returning home tomorrow (in a small, confined airplane), and promptly ordering myself a cold beverage and, more important, a Johnsonville brat . . .

Farm Worker Gives H1N1 (Swine) Flu To . . . Pigs

Oops. A hog farm in Alberta is under quarantine after Canadian pigs caught the Hybrid H1N1 Flu from a farm worker. The pigs were exposed to the virus after a worker at a family-run farm returned from Mexico with flu symptoms. This is the first time the new H1N1 influenza strain has been found in pigs.

Canadian officials stressed that the outbreak (involving approximately 200 pigs in a herd of 2,200) has been fully contained, assured the public that the country's food supply is safe, and stressed (again) that there is no risk of contracting the illness by eating pork. Echoing recent comments from the CDC and USDA, Canadian health officials stressed there is “no evidence the virus can be transmitted through eating pork.” Click on the following link to read Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's commnets on the Canadian Outbreak.  Moreover, even if pork could become contaminated (through cross contamination or other means), which is very unlikely, we know that cooking pork to 160 degrees readily kills any pathogens that might be present.

Here at home, the CDC has confirmed approximately 226 human cases of the flu in 30 states. And, as far as we can tell, American pigs remain completely unaffected.

Swine Influenza Now Officially Referred to as "H1N1 Flu"

According to the CDC, “swine influenza” has been officially renamed as "H1N1 Flu." The name change follows urging by the U.S. pork industry and others to remove any references to “swine” when describing the virus (for more information, please visit our previous post on the subject). As we reported previously, the current strain is a hybrid of avian and hog viruses, and has nothing to do with “swine.” Moreover, despite extensive testing, the hybrid virus has not been found in pigs, and pork products remain entirely safe to eat.

The H1N1 virus is carried and spread person-to-person through coughing or sneezing. The symptoms of the H1N1 flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular seasonal influenza, and can include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with the flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

People can stay healthy by following simple precautions. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze (alcohol-based hands cleaners are effective), and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth (most germs are spread that way). Currently, 141 cases have been confirmed in 19 states.

Despite the continuing spread of the H1N1 flu, the virus is susceptible to the prescription antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir. As a result, the U.S. Government and manufacturers have begun the process of developing a vaccine against this new virus.

For more information, please visit the CDC H1N1 Flu Website.

Not A Good Week For Pigs...

Pigs never get a fair shake. No matter how you slice it, they’re typically associated with mud, and get the brunt of most jokes. And, today, once again, they’re in desperate need of more lipstick.

Although the current swine flu is transmitted between people, has nothing to do with “swine,” and pork is entirely safe to eat (assuming, as always, you cook it), pigs are getting hammered by the press. The media coverage has been so anti-pig that many countries no longer import pork. The World Health Organization has raised the alert level for swine flu, and Egypt (usually not swayed by extremist views) just announced it’s about to kill every pig within its borders. Thus, after enduring days of eviscerating (no pun intended) media coverage, between 300,000 to 400,000 innocent cob rollers could easily lose their lives.

Not a good week for pigs . . .

This also can’t be (and isn’t) good for the U.S. pork industry. As we all know, the epicenter of the flu outbreak was Mexico. We initially thought (correctly) that people were getting sick from other people. Things went really south for pigs, however, when false rumors suggested the flu originated in a Smithfield Foods Mexican pork plant. After Associated Press ran the story (oops), countless Bloggers (not us) attempted to blame the outbreak on "factory farming.” The only “fabrication” relating to flu, however, was the story itself.

We soon verified that the virus was NOT connected to Smithfield, its operations or . . . its pigs. Rather, as reported previously, the illness morphed from a hybrid of hog and avian flu strains (or, the hybrid A/H1N1 flu strain), which resides in people—not swine.

Thus, as industry attempted to set the record straight, even the Obama Administration chimed in. Officials announced repeatedly that pork products were “perfectly safe.” "I want to reiterate,” pleaded Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “this is NOT an animal health or food safety issue.”

Why, then, are people so hoggish about swine? Well, that’s easy. Not long ago, some doctor, in some lab, and in some report, thought it would be clever to name this new “hybrid” illness “swine flu.” And, it stuck. In turn, media and bloggers alike (we’re guilty too) scoured “Google Images” to find the best pig photo to hammer the message home. The cool images stuck too.

So, how to fix it? Well, I’m sure it sounded like quite the challenge when the first courageous employee (in some swanky board room) asked quietly whether it might be possible to simply, well . . . “change the name.” A raised eyebrow, we’re certain, likely followed by a long pause…

But, that idea stuck too. And, although (admittedly) this is a big ship to turn, industry groups mobilized and are now asking (whoever will listen) to change the name from “swine flu” to something a bit more subtle.

So, what are the current proposals? The two top runners are “North American Flu” and “Hybrid Flu.” Although either sound simple enough, things are never that easy. One need only infuse politics to know that neither idea will likely sell.

Indeed, we anticipate that, when the opportunity comes, “conservatives” will likely argue that any reference to “North American Flu” is merely another attempt by “liberals” to blame the world’s most significant problems on the U.S. In response, liberals will likely retort that the use of “Hybrid Flu” is simply yet another conservative ploy to tarnish alternative fuels and green technology.

Not sure who wins the debate (in the end), but it is sure to come.

Thus, perhaps, we could find middle ground. To the extent the current virus involves a unique and daring blend of both swine and avian flu, maybe something more tasteful, like “Swavian Influenza,” would be easiest to swallow. It sounds exotic, it rolls nicely off the tongue, and (the best part) it’s politically neutral. 

If that doesn't work, a respected friend, with a smirk, suggested "A-1 Influenza" or, even better, "ACME  INFLUENZA" (my favorite).  Move aside, Wile E. Coyote...  And, worst case, we can always do A/H1N1 flu...  Boring, but acceptable. 

So, will any of the proposals work?

Maybe. But, in my mind, only two things are certain. Again, no matter how we slice it, hogs are always the first to get dragged through the mud. And, second, no matter how much lipstick we use, a pig is still (and always will be) a pig.

Despite The Continuing Spread Of Swine Flu, Pork Products Remain Safe

As of this morning, the CDC has confirmed a total of 40 swine flu cases in the United States (increased from 20 over the weekend). As noted in our previous post, the current strain is a mutated variant of swine flu which can be transmitted directly from person-to-person. For this and other reasons, the current illnesses are not believed to be related in any way to exposure to pigs or pork products. Click on the following link to visit the CDC Swine Flu Website.

Indeed, according to scientists at the USDA and the CDC, “swine flu viruses are not transmitted by food, so you cannot get swine flu from eating pork or pork products." Moreover, the virus (like other pathogens), even if present (through cross contamination or other means), is easily killed if heated to 160 degrees. In turn, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack confirmed further that "[t]here has been no evidence,” in any event, “that [any] swine have been infected with this virus."

Echoing Vilsack’s comments, the National Pork Producers Council (“NPPC”) likewise confirmed that "pork is safe to eat, and direct contact with swine is not the source of, and U.S. pigs have not been infected with, the hybrid influenza.” According to NPPC, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:

  • People cannot get the hybrid influenza from eating pork or pork products. Most influenza viruses, including the swine flu virus, are not spread by food. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.
  • There are no food safety issues related to the hybrid flu that have been identified, according to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
  • Preliminary investigations have determined that none of the people infected with the hybrid flu had contact with hogs.
  • This virus is very different from that found in pigs.
  • The hybrid virus never has been identified in hogs in the United States or anywhere in the world.
  • The hybrid virus is contagious and is spreading by human-to-human transmission.

Despite such assurances, however, Russia nevertheless suspended imports of all port products from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas (Russia has also suspended imports of all meat products from California, Kansas and Texas). Russia also suspended shipments from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador.

According to the CDC, swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Although the disease normally does not infect humans, human infections have been known to occur in rare instances among people who are exposed to pigs. Until now, however, cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses have been extremely rare. Symptoms resemble those of regular flu but, as demonstrated in the most recent mutation, the virus also has the potential to be fatal.

Swine Flu May Be Spreading Throughout US

With numerous cases of swine flu reported in Mexico, Canada and now here at home, the United States is stepping up preparations for a possible pandemic.

As a general matter, the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus rarely infects humans. Although sporadic human cases have been reported, the virus is usually associated with exposure to pigs, and rarely transmitted between people.

Recent victims, however, have reported no exposure to swine, and investigators believe that the virus may have mutated and is spreading between humans. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, the virus has been fatal.

In years past, there were only a few cases of swine flu reported annually in the United States. As of today, however, the CDC confirmed 20 cases of swine flu in five states:

  • California: 7
  • Kansas: 2
  • New York City: 8
  • Ohio: 1
  • Texas: 2

These cases are a likely extension of the outbreak in Mexico. As of this afternoon, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said 81 deaths were suspected to be from the outbreak, and 374 people remained hospitalized. Notably, Mexico City has closed all of its schools and universities until further notice because of the virus, and troops were handing out filter masks outside the National Cathedral on Sunday morning. No masses were scheduled at the cathedral, but dozens of worshippers put on masks and went inside the church to pray on their own.

Canada has also confirmed at least six cases of illnesses, while Spain, Israel and New Zealand are investigating possible but unconfirmed cases.

In turn, the CDC is working closely with state and local officials in California, Texas, as well as with health officials in Mexico, Canada and the World Health Organization. In addition to attempting to determine the source of the U.S. infections, investigators are also attempting to determine how easily the virus is transmitted from person to person, and whether additional people may have been infected. Click on the following link to visit the CDC Swine Flu Website

As an aside, although the CDC reports that swine flu is not normally transmitted by food, we do know that the virus (like other pathogens), if present, is easily killed if heated to 160 degrees.

In any event, although the U.S. government has now declared “a public health emergency” -- a step Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said "sounds more severe than really it is,” – this is standard operating procedure which allows federal, state and local agencies to better direct their resources toward prevention and mitigation.

In turn, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs echoed Napolitano's comments confirming that, although the outbreak "is of great concern to the White House, it's certainly not a time to panic."