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Swine Flu Goes Person-to-Pig; Could it Jump Back?

Swine Flu Goes Person-to-Pig; Could it Jump Back?

Navy Doctor Captain Manuel Velasco displays a handful of vials containing samples taken from the throats of patients who are suspected of having swine flu at the Naval hospital in Mexico City, Sunday, May 3, 2009. (Source: AP)

Associated Press/AP Online

May 04, 2009

MEXICO CITY – Now that the swine flu virus has passed from a farmworker to pigs, could it jump back to people? The question is important, because crossing species again could make it more deadly.

The never-before-seen virus was created when genes from pig, bird and human viruses mixed together inside a pig. Experts fear the virus that has gone from humans back into pigs in at least one case could mutate further before crossing back into humans again. But no one can predict what will happen.

“Could it gain virulence? Yes,” Juan Lubroth, an animal health expert at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, said Sunday. “It could also become milder. It could go in both directions.”

Canadian officials announced Saturday that the virus had infected about 200 pigs on a farm — the first evidence that it had jumped to another species. It was linked to a farmworker who recently returned from Mexico, where 19 people have died from the virus. The farmworker has recovered, and the mildly infected pigs have been quarantined.

Agriculture officials believe the worker may have sneezed or coughed near the pigs, possibly in a barn. About 10 percent of the herd experienced loss of appetite and fever, but all are recovering.

Read: What you need to know about swine flu

Experts say pork — even from infected pigs — is safe to eat.

Lubroth stressed that sick people should avoid contact with swine, but said healthy farmworkers don’t need to take any extra precautions because the chance of catching flu from a pig is small.

Unlike the H5N1 bird flu virus, which infects the blood, organs and tissue of poultry, most swine flus are confined to the respiratory tract, meaning the risk of a human getting infected by a pig is “probably 10 or a 1,000 times less,” Lubroth said.

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