by Marion Nestle
May 4 2009

Update on swine flu. Oops (sorry): H1N1

The Guardian’s Mike Davis says Mexican swine flu is “a genetic chimera probably conceived in the faecal mire of an industrial pigsty.”  No wonder the pork industry is so upset about the bad publicity caused by swine flu.  Their solution to this problem?  Call it something else.  This worked and the official name of the disease is now Influenza A (H1N1).    No direct evidence, it seems, links pork CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) to this particular strain of H1N1 to human influenza.  Of course there is no direct evidence.  Nobody has been looking for it.

But now Canada has found some pigs sick with H1N1 at a farm in Alberta.  Oops again.  The World Health Organization (WHO) thinks the pigs caught the disease from a farm worker who had traveled to Mexico.  WHO reports nearly 900 cases worldwide.  As for the U.S., the New York Times has a nifty map of where the cases have been found.

Scientists have been worrying about transmission of swine flu to people for some time.  In 2003, Science magazine noted that the classic swine flu virus, H1N1, was mutating rapidly, suggesting that neither pigs nor people could remain immune to it.  And nobody was doing any surveillance for swine flu.  The Institute of Medicine, also worried, published major reports on the threat, prevention, and treatment of pandemic flu.

These days, the CDC is monitoring the situation and reports the U.S. case count is up to 226 (as of May 3).  The CDC also reports international cases and describes specific cases in California and Texas.  And, it notes, the virus is becoming increasingly resistant to antiviral drugs.  But not to worry.  It doesn’t look H1N1 will turn out to be a big worldwide pandemic like the deadly one in 1918.  At least not this time.

  • Sheila

    While it may seem to be good news that this H1N1 virus might only be causing illness about as severe as the “normal” influenza here in the USA, this is still a big problem for many people. At the very least, nobody wants the experience of being sick or missing work/school. And, even with just the “normal” influenza, thousands of people in US die every year. And, there are many of us who have autoimmune diseases and take immune suppression drugs, or have respiratory disease, that put us at increased risk of having severe complications from even the “normal” influenza, now also from a new virus we have no way to vaccinate or otherwise gain immunity.
    So, regardless of where the fingers should point, or the perceived general low level of threat to community, some of us individuals are still quite uneasy about the personal aspects of a new disease threat.

  • Daniel Ithaca,NY

    It would be super if the experts were looking into the source and especially looking at factory farms.

    If these type of CAFOs/flesh factories seem to be the a large factor with the spread of Swine Flu, it would be just one more reason of many for at least the United States to stop promoting them through EPA clean-up assistance and feed subsidies for starters.