First case of H1N1 flu confirmed in U.S. hog: USDA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. hog has tested positive for the pandemic H1N1 flu virus for the first time ever, the Agriculture Department confirmed on Monday.

Nasal sprayers with the H1N1 swine flu vaccine are seen at Dodge Park Elementary School in Landover, Maryland, October 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

USDA said the virus was found in a hog exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair where four teenagers became sick.

The discovery does not suggest infection of commercial pig herds raised for slaughter, USDA said. So far, it said, preliminary positives have been found in three hogs with tests confirming pandemic H1N1 on one of them.

Health officials say the virus, originally known as swine flu, is not linked to meat products.

“People cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products. Pork is safe to eat,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Swine flu, common in hogs around the world, causes fever and coughing in pigs, which usually recover from the illness. The virus has been found in several herds in Canada.

The new H1N1 virus, which emerged in March and was declared a pandemic in June, is circulating the globe and is widespread among people in 41 U.S. states.

Vilsack said “we have fully engaged our trading partners to remind them” that livestock experts say there is no reason to restrict trade.

Seven countries, including China, already had bans in place against U.S. pork. Vilsack, who is scheduled to visit China on October 28 and 29 for routine trade discussions, said last week he would urge China to end its restrictions on U.S. beef and pork.

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“We certainly are concerned,” said Dave Warner of the National Pork Producers Council, about the potential of new bans.

U.S. hog futures turned lower near midday on Monday at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but traders blamed weak cash hog and pork markets, rather than the news that the U.S. hog contracted H1N1 flu.

Additional samples from the Minnesota State Fair are being tested, USDA said. Samples were taken from August 26 to September 1 as part of a research project that documents flu viruses in settings where people and hogs interact.

USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories used three tests to confirm the presence of the virus in a pig sample.

Detection in the hog at the state fair does not suggest commercial herds are infected, said USDA, because show pigs and commercial herds are separate parts of the swine industry and usually do not mix.

The Minnesota State Fair, which ended September 6, sent 120 teens home on September 3 after four of them were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. The teens were members of a performing arts group in 4-H, a nationwide social and educational program for rural youth.

On Friday, USDA said “information available at this time would suggest the children were not sickened by contact with the fair pigs.” It said the hogs appeared healthy when the samples were taken. A USDA source said it appeared some of the children handling the swine were showing signs of the flu.

A meat industry group, the American Meat Institute, said it “is not unexpected” for the pandemic H1N1 virus to be discovered in U.S. hogs. It said experts “have underscored that novel H1N1 is not a foodborne disease; it is a respiratory infection that does not impact pork safety.”

According to the World Health Organization, fewer than 5,000 people have died from H1N1, also known as swine flu, this year. WHO said influenza activity in the northern hemisphere was much higher than usual.

Most people who catch the H1N1 virus suffer mild symptoms.

But in contrast to seasonal flu strains, which can be serious for elderly people, H1N1 can turn dangerous for some people with existing health conditions or otherwise healthy young adults.

Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Bob Burgdorfer in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio