Swine Flu: Questions and Answers

Can I get swine flu from eating hot dogs or other pork products?

Nope. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), swine flu cannot be spread by eating pork or even being around pigs infected with the virus. It’s not a foodborne illness. Those mass cullings of pigs that are taking place in Egypt and elsewhere are a sad symptom of public misinformation regarding H1N1, not a result of pigs or meat spreading the disease.

Did factory farming have anything to do with the spread of H1N1?

The jury is still out on this one-and there’s a chance we may never know for sure-but let’s take a little history lesson. In 1998, there was an outbreak of swine flu in North Carolina, a state that is home to 10 million pigs and where industrial style systems have replaced backyard pig production. That 1998 flu and the current H1N1 virus share 6 of the 8 genetic strains. Both strains were also a mixture of avian, swine, and human influenza viruses. Pigs and chickens often serve as a “mixing vessel” for viruses, stirring up their genetic traits and making them easier to pass on to humans.

Because animals on factory farms are typically living in crowded and often filthy conditions, they tend to get sick and spread illness pretty easily. That’s one reason meat producers tend to mix sub-therapeutic amounts of antibiotics into animal feed.

What’s going to happen? Will swine flu fizzle out or cause a global pandemic?

Although we don’t hear as much about avian influenza as we did a few years ago, the virus is still a threat to both birds and humans. Unlike the swine flu, which doesn’t usually make pigs that ill, avian flu can wipe out entire flocks of chickens and kill wild birds in just a few days, as well as infect and kill otherwise healthy people. New cases of swine flu are beginning to slow down and its virulence appears to be lessening. Consumers should continue to be careful as more is learned about the virus, but not panic. And swine flu might just be the thing that makes us all more aware of how more than 40 percent the world’s nearly 1 billion pigs are raised.

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