Markets Impacted by Fears of Swine Flu Pandemic

April 26, 2009 07:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

U.S. and World Health Officials Act Fast to Provide Information

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Commodity, oil and stock markets are significantly lower today as fears over a possible flu pandemic have raised concerns about the overall US and world economy.

Oil prices fell below $50 per barrel today, pressured partly over expectations the world economy could suffer another blow if the flu outbreak in Mexico turns out be a pandemic.

The outbreak in Mexico has killed more than 100 people, and has already spread to the U.S., and to Spain in Europe.

It will not take the U.S. Congress long to announce hearings on the matter, and the U.S. executive branch of government held briefings on the topic over the weekend with more expected in the coming days. American health officials declared a public health emergency on Sunday as 20 cases were confirmed in the U.S., including eight in New York City. Some nations imposed travel bans and the situation has already impacted the airline industry.

On Sunday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the outbreak had "pandemic potential," urging governments to step up their surveillance of suspicious outbreaks. The international organization has been holding teleconferences with staff and flu experts around the world regarding the issue.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called the emergency declaration "standard operating procedure," instead urging "people to think of it as a 'declaration of emergency preparedness.'" Napolitano, is heading the federal effort to deal with the outbreak, but several other departments, including Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture, are also involved.

White House Press Secretary Gibbs, The Politico reported, "dismissed any suggestion that administration's response would be hampered by the lack of confirmed appointees at the HHS, the last Cabinet post to receive a secretary, or the yet to be filled post of surgeon general."

The Associated Press reported that President Obama is getting regular briefings and updates on the outbreak and the steps being taken to address the problem.

Yesterday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told CNN that Obama was taking the swine flu outbreak “very seriously” and was monitoring the situation. Obama was recently in Mexico, but officials said he was in top health. Gibbs said the president was not tested for the flu, but remained confident his health was not in danger. The flu takes 24 to 48 hours to incubate and Obama left Mexico nine days ago. Jarrett reaffirmed the notion the president was in fine health. “He’s fine. He’s just fine,” Jarrett said.

International reaction: The South Korean government said yesterday it would run a daily inspection system to prevent an outbreak of the deadly swine flu virus in Korea. In an interministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, government officials agreed to hold ministerial and vice-ministerial consultations when necessary to devise further countermeasures for flu virus emergencies. "The government must be able to take immediate and drastic countermeasures, bracing for the worst scenario," Han said.

The Philadelphia Bulletin reported Russia suspended pork imports from Mexico and from the U.S. states of Texas, California and Kansas shipped after April 21.

Also, the Xinhua and Reuters news services said China also has suspended its imports from those same locations from April 26 forward. Meanwhile, as noted other countries such as South Korea are stepping up screening and testing as a precaution to prevent the disease.

From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency: “The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been notified of cases of human swine influenza (swine flu) in the southern United States and Mexico. Information to date indicates that human-to-human transmission of the virus has occurred. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is currently coordinating the Canadian response to this situation, and the CFIA is providing support and expertise as required. For more information, visit At this point, there are no signs of increased disease or death in Canadian swine. However, as a precaution, the CFIA is asking producers, veterinarians and labs to increase their vigilance in monitoring for and reporting swine disease. Suspected cases of illness in pigs should be reported to veterinarians, provincial authorities or the CFIA. Similarly, PHAC recommends that anyone who is experiencing severe flu-like symptoms contact their health care provider.”

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) released the following statement:

“Pork is safe to eat, and direct contact with swine is not the source of, and U.S. pigs have not been infected with, the hybrid influenza that has been identified in a number of people in the United States and more than 1,300 in Mexico.

“NPPC wants to assure domestic and global consumers about the safety of pork and urges pork producers to tighten their existing biosecurity protocols to protect their pigs from this virus, including restricting public access to barns.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:

-- People cannot get the hybrid influenza from eating pork or pork products. Most influenza viruses, including the swine flu virus, are not spread by food. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.
-- There are no food safety issues related to the hybrid flu that has been identified, according to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
-- Preliminary investigations have determined that none of the people infected with the hybrid flu had contact with hogs.
-- This virus is different, very different from that found in pigs.
-- The hybrid virus never has been identified in hogs in the United States or anywhere in the world.
-- The hybrid virus is contagious and is spreading by human-to-human transmission.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a statement, said he wanted to "reassure the public that there is no evidence at this time showing that swine have been infected with this virus. According to scientists at USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu viruses are not transmitted by food so you cannot get swine flu from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork or pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills all viruses and other foodborne pathogens."

Vilsack added that "USDA has in place, and did so before the last week's events, a surveillance system to monitor animal health. As an additional precautionary measure, I have asked USDA to reach out to agriculture officials in every state to affirm that they have no signs of this virus type in their state. USDA will continue to work with other government agencies to monitor the situation and keep the public informed."

USDA released the following information on the topic:


Do any swine have the virus that has infected humans?

There is no evidence at this time that swine in the United States are infected with this virus strain.

Can I get this new strain of virus from eating pork or pork products?

According to USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no. Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food so you cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills all viruses.

The USDA suggests, as it has in the past, cooking pork and pork products to the proper internal temperature and preventing cross-contamination between raw and cooked food is the key to safety. You should:

-- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw pork;

-- Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw pork away from other foods;

-- After cutting raw meat, wash cutting board, knife, and countertops with hot, soapy water;

-- Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water; and

-- Use a food thermometer to ensure pork has reached the safe internal temperature of at least 160 °F to kill foodborne germs that might be present.

Can I get this flu by touching pork that is not yet cooked?

There is no evidence at this time that the virus is in swine or that touching uncooked pork could infect someone with the virus.

What is this flu that people are talking about in the news?

It is a new strain of flu that consists of a mixture of genetic material from swine, avian and human influenza viruses.

Is USDA testing and monitoring to make sure swine are not infected with the virus and if so, how?

A network of Federal veterinarians, state animal health officials and private practitioners are regularly involved with monitoring U.S. swine for signs of significant disease.

To date, there have been no reports that the influenza virus currently causing illness in humans is circulating anywhere in the U.S. swine herd.

As a proactive measure, USDA is reaching out to all state animal health officials to affirm they have no signs of this virus type in their state.

USDA has put U.S. pork producers on a high alert for safety.

How will the public be notified if the government finds that people should not eat swine?

Delivering factual, timely information is a priority for USDA. Should there be a detection of influenza in the U.S. swine herd, those results would be shared with the public in a timely fashion.

Can you get this flu from being around or touching swine?

The CDC says that the spread of swine flu can occur in two ways:

Through contact with infected pigs or environments contaminated with swine flu viruses.

Through contact with a person with swine flu. Human-to-human spread of swine flu has been documented also and is thought to occur in the same way as seasonal flu. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.

Is my potbelly pig in danger? Can I get it from my pet?

There is no evidence at this time that the virus is in U.S. swine.

Swine owners should learn the warning signs of swine influenza. Signs of swine flu in pigs can include sudden onset of fever, depression, coughing (barking), discharge from the nose or eyes, sneezing, breathing difficulties, eye redness or inflammation, and going off feed. If your pig is showing any of these signs, call your veterinarian.

Buy your animals from reputable sources and ensure that you have documentation of your new pet's origin. Be sure that you get your new animals checked by a veterinarian.

Keep your pigs and areas around them clean. If you have been around other animals, make sure that you clean your shoes, clothing, and other items. And don't forget to wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling your pet.

How do we ensure that we take the appropriate measures to protect our swine?

We encourage commercial pork producers to intensify the bio-security practices they've long had in place. They should not loan equipment or vehicles to or borrow them from other farms. Swine from outside sources, such as live bird markets should not be brought back to the farm.

They should permit only essential workers and vehicles to enter the farm. Swine workers should disinfect their shoes, clothes and hands. They should thoroughly clean and disinfect equipment and vehicles entering and leaving the farm and avoid visiting other poultry farms without proper cleaning and disinfection.

Also, they should report sick animals immediately. The industry understands the importance of eradicating the virus as quickly as possible to protect the industry.

Is there a vaccine for humans for this new strain?

The CDC should answer any questions about a vaccine. According to the CDC, there is no vaccine to protect humans from this new variant swine flu. Go to for more information.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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