'No evidence flu virus can infect meat'
Geneva, May 5, 2009
The risk that pork meat could carry the new H1N1 influenza virus is 'totally negligible', the United Nations food agency said on Tuesday, reiterating that pork and pork products were safe to eat.
Up to 20 countries worldwide have banned imports of pork and other meat in response to the outbreak of the new flu virus, according to documents from the World Health Organisation.
'No influenza virus in pigs has ever been detected in meat or meat products,' the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) chief veterinary officer, Joseph Domenech, told Reuters.
Although the H1N1 strain is not food-borne, fears that it may spread through animal products have prompted restrictions on live pigs, pork, cattle, poultry, livestock, feed and animal semen from countries with reported infections.
More than 1,000 people have been infected with the virus that is thought to spread through sneezes, coughs and droplets like the common flu. WHO labs have confirmed 26 deaths from H1N1, all but one in Mexico, the epicentre for the outbreak.
Canadian authorities on Saturday also reported the presence of the virus in a swine herd, which was apparently infected by a farm worker who had been to Mexico. That caused the WHO and FAO to call for extra caution in handling live animals.
Domenech said many of the virus characteristics and developments were still unknown, so it was important to take precautions like making sure people who are in direct contact with pigs wear protective clothing to minimise the risk of being infected.
Unlike in the case of the H5N1 avian flu, when people were advised to avoid touching dead chickens, WHO experts said on Sunday dead pigs did not pose a threat.
'This new strain of influenza virus does not contaminate humans easily and has a very low pathogenicity for both humans and pigs, unlike the avian flu which killed millions of poultry,' Domenech said. - Reuters