April 30, 2009
The World Health Organization just raised the influenza pandemic alert to Phase 5 just after United States officials announced the first swine flu death in the country was a Mexican toddler who was visiting relatives in Texas. According to the WHO’s website out of the 6 Phase scale, “Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize … planned mitigation measures is short.” In a news conference today, WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, said past experiences show that the flu may cause only mild disease in affluent countries (like the U.S.) but is likely to cause severe disease and more deaths in developing countries. Dr. Chan warned, “No matter what the situation is, the international community should treat this as a window of opportunity to ramp up preparedness and response.”
The number of confirmed cases continues to steadily grow all over the globe. AP reports that swine flu has spread to at least 10 states in the U.S. and the number of cases has reached nearly 100. The AP says the number of people with confirmed and suspected cases in Mexico is up to 2,500. The WHO reports swine flu has reached out globally to Canada, Britain, Israel, New Zealand and Spain. AP says Germany and Austria have just added themselves to the list.
Interestingly, despite a concerted effort by the Administration to refer to the swine flu as the 2009 H1N1 flu virus, not every federal agency has made the change yet. In fact, the Washington Post quoted an unnamed CDC scientist as saying:
“the name “2009 H1N1″ will not stick in the scientific community because it will be confused with this year’s routine seasonal flu.”
You’ll recall pork producers believe using the term swine flu is giving customers the false idea that pork products could be carrying the virus. Remembering that bird flu, specifically H5N1, can be found in poultry meat, I have to admit I wasn’t 100% sold on the claim that there is no way swine flu could make it on to a piece of pork, but Hopkins scientists assure me that the claim if fairly accurate.
Infectious disease expert, Dr. Andrew Pekosz, who is an associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, told me “contaminated pork represents a very minor risk with respect to swine H1N1, primarily because swine influenza is a respiratory disease with very little if any any virus present in tissue outside the respiratory tract.”
So rest easy, you won’t catch swine flu from eating pork. But pork can contain other nasty pathogens, (more so industrially produced) so to be safe, make sure to practice proper handling and cooking procedures.