Quebec finds pandemic H1N1 in hog herd

An isolated case of the pandemic strain of H1N1 influenza has been confirmed in a Quebec hog herd that has since “completely recovered.”

The provincial agriculture, food and fisheries ministry (MAPAQ) said in a release Tuesday that the strain had been identified Friday at the labs of the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg.

MAPAQ emphasized Tuesday that no other case has been reported on any other hog farm in Quebec and no people have caught the virus from the herd, saying “there is no human case related to this situation.”

A MAPAQ spokesman said Tuesday that it’s not known how the hogs caught the virus. 

MAPAQ pathologist Dr. Alain Laperle told the Quebec farmers’ newspaper La Terre de Chez Nous on Tuesday that no one in the hog farmer’s family, nor any of the hog farm’s workers or visitors, has been sickened by the virus.

Laperle told the newspaper that the first clinical signs of the flu were detected in the herd at the end of June. Neither the newspaper nor the ag ministry gave the name or location of the hog farm in question.

La Terre also quoted Laperle as saying that while the vector by which the disease came to the farm may never be known, the “most probable hypothesis” is that it came through a human carrier.

The ministry in its release Tuesday also emphasized that Quebec’s pork supply is safe to consume and poses no human health risk.

Tuesday’s announcement follows a statement Friday from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that it will not quarantine hog herds found to carry H1N1.

The agency hasn’t yet made any official statement on the Quebec case.

Surveillance continues

CFIA said Friday that affected animals from now on “will be managed using the same veterinary management and biosecurity practices employed for other swine influenza viruses.”

That means “limiting opportunities for (H1N1) to spread to susceptible animals,” the agency said, noting pork slaughter plants have “multiple inspection points to ensure that only healthy animals enter the food supply.”

All herds in which H1N1 is detected will be monitored to verify that infected animals recover. As well, CFIA added, surveillance for the presence of H1N1 in swine will continue, so as “to detect any changes in how the virus affects swine and to identify any changes in the structure of the virus.”

CFIA’s decision follows the quarantine it slapped on a hog herd near Rocky Mountain House, Alta., earlier this spring.

The herd was believed to have caught the virus from a person, although the visitor previously suspected of bringing the virus to the farm from Mexico has since been ruled out as the carrier.

None of the animals that came down with H1N1 died from it, but the federal quarantine dragged on as positive tests continued to turn up within the herd.

Faced with an indefinite quarantine and overcrowded facilities, the hogs’ owner, Arnold Van Ginkel, eventually culled all of his 2,000-plus animals last month for animal welfare reasons.

The only other known case of the pandemic strain of H1N1 crossing over from humans to hogs was reported in Argentina earlier this month.

Confirmed cases

Since the arrival of pandemic H1N1 in Canada, the federal Public Health Agency has reported 58 people have died from this specific flu strain, as of Tuesday morning.

In all, as of July 18, Canada has reported 10,449 lab-confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1 in people, including 1,141 hospitalizations.

Globally, the World Health Organization reports 816 lab-confirmed deaths due to pandemic H1N1, and a total of 134,503 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in people as of Monday morning.

However, the WHO said in Monday’s report, “given that countries are no longer required to test and report individual cases, the number of cases reported actually understates the real number of cases.”