Aporkalypse Now revisited: What’s new in swine flu

Thanks, people: Canadian health officials have found the new H1N1 flu virus in a swine herd in Alberta. They apparently caught it from a human who recently traveled to Mexico. (Reuters) The USDA says in a hasty statement, Not to worry, the virus is still not in our swine, but um, stay away from pigs if you're sneezing. We don't want them to catch this bug made from their genetic material that definitely didn't come from them in the first place.

It ain't no hamthrax: The Times reports that the WHO said Saturday that there was no evidence of sustained spread in communities outside North America, which would fit the definition of a pandemic. New Scientist concludes that it spreads barely well enough to keep itself going, so we may not be headed for a repeat of 1918. Or are we? Turns out the 1918 flu pandemic, caused by another H1N1 virus, started with a mild, early wave that exploded with a much deadlier second phase.

H1N1 virus tied to hogs, from unimpeachable source: In accessible scientific prose even this English major can follow, pandemic flu reporter Debora MacKenzie outlines the geneaology of our little un-friend H1N1, explains how and when the swine variants mixed with human and avian ones, and lays the blame squarely but restrainedly at the feet of the livestock health industry, which knew about its potential danger but didn't communicate much with its human-monitoring colleagues. "The evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen," she writes. (New Scientist) Meanwhile over at Grist, Tom Philpott rolls up the New Scientist article and uses it to swat Big Pork, whose representative keeps on insisting that "it's not swine flu, it's human flu," as if that's going to resuscitate pork chop sales.

H1N1 virus tied to hogs, from a source no one will listen to: In a dense, heavily footnoted piece, Michael Greger, MD, cites numerous cases of mutated swine-flu outbreaks in pig factories around the U.S. and explains why they are perfect breeding grounds for ever-newer forms of deadly viruses. But since he's also the director of public health for the Humane Society, you will probably not be seeing him on Fox News. (HSUS.org)

Caught in a pig lie: Don't miss Debora MacKenzie's accompanying, far more outraged blog post about how everyone's closing ranks to keep this from harming the pork industry. "So if you cross your fingers behind your back and keep a straight face you can state baldly that this virus has not been seen in pigs before," she writes. "Well, obviously this virus is different - its siblings have never spread readily in people before either. But the people making these statements know perfectly well that the Mexican flu virus is the very recent descendant of one of the triple reassortants that have been circulating in the US for a decade." (New Scientist)

Pope-ularity contest: CNBC's Erin Burnett sat down with Smithfield CEO Larry Pope today for a friendly nuzzle, apparently designed to help the pork industry get the message out that you can't catch influenza from your bacon. Which is true (as far as we know). Pity that message had to be delivered with a nice juicy helping of lies, aided and abetted by the USDA, about how there is "No tie-in between this influenza and any pigs" and "absolutely no evidence that ties influenza back to our industry." (Uh, guys? Meet Ms. MacKenzie and lots of science-y types, above.) Other Pope statements that had us gagging: "I'm extremely proud of how we are from a corporate social responsibility standpoint.…We do something in all the communities that we do business." Related: Pope also sent a letter to all employees reassuring them that the company was doing everything it can to prop up its share price combat the "sensationaliz[ation] of this serious illness." Because, Pope assured them — articles like "Boss Hog," Rolling Stone's searing indictment of the company's environmental, animal welfare, and labor record notwithstanding — "our first priority as a company is to ensure the health and safety of our herds and our employees so that consumers can trust our products." (Smithfield Foods)

The other fright meat: The National Pork Board will launch a national media campaign next week to assure consumers that pork is safe. (Brownfield) This one will be paid, we assume, versus the volunteer one going on right now.

Pork industry squealing like a stuck pig: Swine flu, which caused hog prices to drop 10% this week, could not have come at a worse time for the pork industry, staggering since late 2007 from record high feed prices and suffering from the same recession as the rest of us. Reuters reporter Bob Burgdorfer regurgitates whole, without attribution, the Big Pork party line that the "flu…has no connection to pigs other than containing swine flu genetic sequences." (Reuters) Related: HuffPo writer David Kirby, author of a forthcoming book on CAFOs, blasts Reuters for editorializing about the "wild theories" of swine flu's origin in "evil factory farming" (kinda like we do, but hey, we're a blog, not an international news agency).

This little piggy: Hog farmer and most frequent Ethicurean commenter Walter Jeffries writes about how H1N1 is affecting his pork sales. As he told Fox44 News in a TV interview, it's not. (Sugar Mtn Farm)

Tick tock pig clock: Good, detective-show-style rundown of how U.S. and Mexican germ sleuths first realized they faced a new type of disease and began racing to isolate its earliest origins. (Wall Street Journal) The L.A. Times has its own version (which, by the way, also says the virus originated in pigs).

Healthcare reform, STAT!: Nicholas Kristof beats the drum for national healthcare, saying "The flu crisis should be a wake-up call, a reminder that one of our vulnerabilities to the possible pandemic is our deeply flawed medical system." Sounds like all the makings of a blockbuster movie: millions of Americans without access to health care, a severe recession, overextended hospitals, and a nasty new killer virus. (NY Times.com)

3 Responsesto “Aporkalypse Now revisited: What’s new in swine flu”

  1. Dan says:

    Now that it's been found in an actual pig, it's only a matter of time before the animal ID people beating the drum in favor of mandatory animal ID...

  2. Some thoughts:

    1) It will only be a short time until someone creates viruses from components or scratch for political purposes - e.g., terrorism/war/pograms.

    2) The HxNy series is an excellent candidate. We know so much about this baby and it has so many interesting pieces, ability to infect, kill, etc. Gene sequencing is becoming a garage game.

    3) Said synthetic virus can be keyed to hunt specific genetic populations with the purpose of genocide. There will be collateral damage.

    4) Curtailing travel is perhaps the number one thing people can do to reduce the spread of diseases. Now that we have such excellent electronic communications it is hard to justify the enormous amount of wasteful (time & fuel) and polluting travel that still goes on. Make your next meeting an e-meeting. I read somewhere that in the 'olden days' the average distance a person traveled from their home was only 17 miles. With the internet we can all be brought closer together without all this travel.

    5) Since this disease is rampant in humans the REAL ID (e.g., people ID) people will likely beat their drums too. Oh, joy.

  3. In various municipalities across the nation, local public health officials have established different policies.  The CDC is particularly interested in the policy of Seattle, Washington, where schools don’t close even when a case of swine flu is confirmed.  In Seattle, classes go on but the sick student or school employee is required to stay home for at least seven days before returning to class.