Friday, September 25, 2009

Swine Flu: Don’t Test, Don’t Tell



# 3770



For several months the pork producers in the US and elsewhere have portrayed themselves as hapless victims of an unfortunate naming convention that led to scientists, reporters, and then the public to refer to this novel H1N1 pandemic virus as a `swine flu’.


Of course, despite their fervent protests, this is a swine flu.  


If the truth is bad for business, I’m sorry.  But that doesn’t change the fact that this virus is a triple reassortment of a swine flu virus that has been floating around (but largely unmonitored) in pigs for decades.


Now, according to a report in DMV newsmagazine, despite urging from the USDA to upgrade surveillance, swine herd owners are resisting testing their herds for the novel H1N1 (or any other swine flu virus), out of fears that any discovery might further depress pork sales.


Some snippets  (hat tip  @AIDigest) , and then a parting shot or two.



Fear over H1N1 detection brings down swine disease samples

Sep 25, 2009

National Report -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), concerned about a perceived drop in swine disease samples from pork producers, is urging veterinarians to continue monitoring herds for a variety of diseases, including the H1N1 influenza virus.


The pork industry is expected to lose billions by the end of the year. A steep drop in pork prices hit the industry in May, when the H1N1 virus was discovered. Though the virus still has not been found in U.S. swine herds, it initially was referred to as “swine flu,” and the name has stuck in popular culture. Some countries refused to import pork from North America and, despite efforts to spread the truth about the safety of pork, the reputation of swine was damaged for a time.


Influenza in swine has been circulating for some time, but so far has been detected only in a few Canadian herds. The USDA has urged producers and veterinarians to continue strict monitoring of U.S. herds.



The problem with monitoring swine herds is that many producers fear what virus discovery in their herds would do, says Ed Curlett, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) spokesman.


Even detection of other common strains of swine influenza, not H1N1, could cause problems if it is misunderstood in media reports, he says.


Ok, let’s see if I’ve got this straight.  

Although a novel swine influenza jumped to humans earlier this year and has already killed thousands of people around the world, pork producers are resisting testing their herds because any new viral discovery might further depress sales?


Does the pork industry have any conception of just how deep the pig muck would run if another swine flu should emerge anytime soon from their largely unmonitored herds? 


Granted, testing and surveillance of herds might cause short term public relations challenges. But it could help improve our knowledge of how influenza viruses mutate, and might even end up saving millions of lives in the process.


But of course, beyond that, there is little to be said for it.


For my part, out of profound respect for the pork industry, should another swine reassortment emerge I will try not to call it `swine flu’.


No.  If it happens again, right now I lean towards calling it Hamthrax.  


After all, who could possibly object to that?