ORONO, Maine — Swine experts are working hand-in-hand with state veterinarians in keeping a watchful eye on Maine’s pig population due to the outbreak of swine flu.
Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, a veterinarian at the University of Maine, has sent notices to about 40 of Maine’s pork producers and others in the industry urging them to be vigilant in reporting any flulike symptoms in their swine, their workers or family members to their veterinarians or to the state veterinarian.
But right now, she said, swine flu is not being considered an animal disease. “There have not been any confirmed cases of this disease in pigs,” she said.
Properly inspected and cooked pork is perfectly OK to eat.
“Lots of animal species have their own influenza viruses,” Lichtenwalner explained. “Dogs, horses, birds. These viruses mutate, particularly avian and swine flu. It is very complex but when that happens, the mutation can affect the human population.”
Lichtenwalner said that testing of this current swine flu virus revealed it is genetically very similar to the flu virus naturally found in swine, although several of the genes are different.
She said there are unsubstantiated reports that the first case of this outbreak of swine flu was a young boy who lived in Mexico near a major, large hog production facility. “It may have jumped from swine to human there,” she said.
Lichtenwalner also said that although the swine virus can mutate to affect humans, that process does not happen in reverse.
“The situation in Mexico is somewhat surprising in that it seems to have targeted younger people, and in that the virus itself appears to be relatively new,” Lichtenwalner said.
She said no one should panic and the tracking being done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Maine Department of Agriculture is just vigilance.
“Maine has a great small-farm economy and our farmers are very responsible people,” she said.
Lichtenwalner is advising farmers to follow normal biosecurity precautions for their farms and to review sanitation measures with their workers and families.
Simple practices, such as having good ventilation and sanitation, are even more important for families living on farms, she said.