Concerns about the swine flu's impact on the state's robust pork industry prompted official comment from the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture's office Thursday.
Iowa Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey and the State Veterinarian for Iowa, Dr. David Schmitt, reiterated that consumers cannot get the H1N1 flu strain, or "swine flu" by eating pork and there is no evidence of this flu in the pig population of Iowa or any state.
"There is no evidence that this strain of flu can be spread to pigs, but it is a good reminder to pork producers to continue their efforts to protect the health of their animals," Northey, a Spirit Lake Republican, said. "Limiting access to your buildings, keeping workers that are ill away from the animals and contacting a vet if any of your pigs do show signs of sickness are all best practices that make even more sense in the current situation."
The State Veterinarian's office is working with the Iowa Department of Public Health, federal veterinarians and those in private practice to have a system in place to monitor Iowa's pig population for significant disease, and those efforts continue around the current outbreak.
"I just want to remind Iowans that pork is safe to eat and our swine population remains healthy," Schmitt said. "The Department has been communicating with Iowa vets about the situation to help keep them informed and give them access to the most up-to-date information."
Research is under way by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine if the disease can be spread to swine, but in the meantime Northey and Schmitt are encouraging Iowa's pork producers to exercise extra diligence in their long held bio-security practices to continue to protect the health of their animals.
If producers do observe any respiratory illnesses in their pigs, it is important that they do contact a veterinarian.
The World Health Organization announced Thursday that it will stop using the term "swine flu" to avoid confusion over the danger posed by pigs. The U.N. food agency expressed concerns that the term was needlessly causing countries to ban pork products and order the slaughter of pigs.
U.S. pork production is a $97 billion industry.
"Calling this swine flu, when to date there has been no connection between animals and humans, has the potential to cause confusion," Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board, said in a news release.
One top flu expert, doesn't like the swine flu name either, but for a different reason. Traditional swine flu doesn't spread easily among people, although this one does now, Dr. Paul Glezen, a flu epidemiologist at Baylor University told the Associated Press.
Dr. Raul Rabadan, a professor of computational biology at Columbia University said six of the eight genetic segments of this virus strain are purely swine flu and the other two segments are bird and human. Other experts agree with the label as well.
"Scientifically this is a swine virus," said top virologist Dr. Richard Webby, a researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Webby is director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza Viruses in Lower Animals and Birds. He documented the spread a decade ago of one of the parent viruses of this strain in scientific papers.
"It's clearly swine," said Henry Niman, president of Recombinomics, a Pittsburgh company that tracks how viruses evolve. "It's a flu virus from a swine, there's no other name to call it."
Michael Shaw, a director of laboratory science for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a better term is "swine-like."
"It's like viruses we have seen in pigs, it's not something we know was in pigs," he said.