Swine flu joins list of animal diseases that affect people

April 29, 2009 By Delthia Ricks

The swine flu virus that is smoldering in this country and triggering a full-blown outbreak in Mexico is one of a growing number of animal pathogens to jump the species barrier -- and may be the microbe that jumpstarts the first globe-circling pandemic of the 21st century, experts said Tuesday.

The virus is the second known triple-hybrid swine pathogen in history, a concoction of swine, human and bird genetic components to which people have no immunity. It is also the first triple-hybrid to make the leap from pigs to humans.

Unlike with , which people can get only through close contact with a sick bird or feces, this strain of has learned the trick of seasonal influenza and can be passed person-to-person easily.

Scientists are considering flies as one possible vector that may have transmitted the virus from pigs to people. Flies, experts said Tuesday, hover over vast lagoons that hold feces and other waste, byproducts of factory hog farming in Mexico.

"The possibility that flies were vectors is being investigated now," said Dr. Kristine Smith, a veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo. "Whether that actually happened, no one knows yet."

And one of the people who survived an early, aggressive wave of infections at the beginning of the month apparently was a 4-year-old boy who lives near a factory farm with 1 million pigs on it, owned by a joint U.S.-Mexican company, global health officials say.

When people sustained these early infections, Mexican health officials were unaware that swine flu had started its run. The child's samples are being sent to the CDC and to the World Health Organization and will be able to confirm how early the sweep of H1N1 began.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is dispatching a team to the farm to determine the extent of the disease in animals. "At this stage it is ... not an animal crisis." said Joseph Domenech, UN chief veterinarian.

Smithfield Farms, the Virginia-based company that is co-owner of the factory farm in question, said in a statement Tuesday its herd and employees are free of the virus.

Dr. Michael Greger of the Humane Society of America said the first triple-hybrid swine virus was identified 11 years ago.

"Swine flu viruses were relatively stable until 1998 when the first triple-hybrid emerged on a factory farm in North Carolina," he said. "It was first detected in pigs in gestation crates. Animals like these are moved around a lot. They may start out in North Carolina but they were fattened in the Corn Belt and slaughtered in California."

In each state where pigs were transported that year, the rare triple-hybrid strain emerged. However, it remained in pigs, didn't cause serious disease, and didn't leap to .

The new strain doesn't cause serious porcine disease, either. " catch the flu all of the time," Greger added, "they get a loud barking cough."

___

(c) 2009, Newsday.
Visit Newsday online at www.newsday.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Groundbreaking investigative effort identifies gonorrhea vaccine candidates

September 19, 2017
Researchers at Oregon State University have identified a pair of proteins that show promise as the basis for a gonorrhea vaccine.

Snail fever progression linked to nitric oxide production

September 14, 2017
Bilharzia, caused by a parasitic worm found in freshwater called Schistosoma, infects around 200 million people globally and its advance can lead to death, especially in children in developing countries.

Systems analysis points to links between Toxoplasma infection and common brain diseases

September 13, 2017
More than 2 billion people - nearly one out of every three humans on earth, including about 60 million people in the United States - have a lifelong infection with the brain-dwelling parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

Study clears important hurdle toward developing an HIV vaccine

September 13, 2017
An international team of researchers has demonstrated a way of overcoming one of the major stumbling blocks that has prevented the development of a vaccine against HIV: the ability to generate immune cells that stay in circulation ...

As 'flesh-eating' Leishmania come closer, a vaccine against them does, too

September 13, 2017
Parasites that ulcerate the skin, can disfigure the face, and may fatally mutilate its victim's internal organs are creeping closer to the southern edges of the United States.

Promising clinical trial results could give doctors a new tool against drug-resistant strains of malaria parasite

September 13, 2017
Tulane University researchers have developed a new drug that is effective against non-severe cases of malaria, according to results from an FDA-supervised clinical trial published in the latest issue of The Lancet Infectious ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.