WHO says pork is safe to eat, following Alberta pigs infection with flu virus

OTTAWA - Pork is perfectly safe to eat, the World Health Organization and Canadian pork producers insisted Sunday after Canadian officials confirmed that pigs at an Alberta farm were infected with the H1N1 influenza A virus.

OTTAWA - Pork is perfectly safe to eat, the World Health Organization and Canadian pork producers insisted Sunday after Canadian officials confirmed that pigs at an Alberta farm were infected with the H1N1 influenza A virus.

"You don't get this disease through eating pork, and therefore there is no reason to be afraid of eating pork or pork products," Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO senior scientist on food safety, said from Geneva.

"As long as pork is cooked the way we normally cook meat, there is no problem and no risk at all to get this disease."

Meanwhile, Canada's swine flu caseload swelled Sunday to 101 after health officials in British Columbia, Alberta Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia reported 16 more cases.

The confirmed case in Manitoba represented the province's first case of swine flu. Health officials said a female between 10 and 19 years old was recovering from mild symptoms after travelling to Mexico, the United States and British Columbia in mid-April.

In Ontario, the province's acting chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, reported two new confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu virus, bringing the total number in the province to 16.

Williams said that one of the new cases is the result of person-to-person transmission. The individual acquired the illness from close contact with someone who travelled to Mexico.

The second new case was attributed to a person who acquired the illness from a confirmed case while travelling in the United States, Williams said a statement. Both cases were in Toronto.

In British Columbia, Michelle Stewart of the B.C. Health Ministry said seven new cases were reported, bringing the total in B.C. to 29.

"It's not unexpected, sort of consistent with the kind of numbers we've been seeing," Stewart said Sunday.

"The expectation always was that if people continue to self-identify we'd get more."

She said there is "nothing startling" about the new cases.

"They are no more serious than the other cases we've seen, all mild to moderate and none are hospitalized."

She said all latest cases are young adults.

Another case was reported in Quebec, bringing to total number of cases in that province to three.

In Nova Scotia, the province that reported Canada's first confirmed cases, two more people were diagnosed with the illness Sunday, bringing the province's total to 33. Both new cases are related to the original outbreak at the King's Edgehill private boarding school in Windsor, N.S.

As new cases were reported across the country, Health Canada advised Canadians on Sunday not to purchase products claiming to fight or prevent the H1N1 flu virus.

"While there are approved antiviral drugs that may help prevent or reduce the symptoms associated with the flu in general, there are currently no products authorized for sale in Canada that are indicated specifically for the treatment of H1N1 flu virus," the agency said in a release.

It also warned consumers to refrain from purchasing products claiming to be "generic" versions of drugs sold under the brand names Tamiflu or Relenza, saying Health Canada has not authorized generic versions of these drugs.

Health officials in Ottawa confirmed Saturday that a farm worker who travelled to Mexico and fell ill upon his return last month apparently infected a herd of pigs in central Alberta with the swine H1N1 influenza virus.

About 220 pigs in the herd of 2,200 began showing signs of the flu on April 24, said Canada's top veterinary officer, Dr. Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The herd has been quarantined, and many of the animals have recovered, Evans said.

"An outside contractor who had returned from a vacation in Mexico on April 12, 2009 commenced work in the barn on April 14, 2009 ... prior to any public awareness of a disease outbreak," Jurgen Preugschas, chairman of the Canadian Pork Council, said in a news release.

At some point, the worker suffered influenza-like symptoms and when those symptoms were later observed in the swine, the farm owner contacted his veterinarian who in turn notified government authorities, Preugschas said. Additional testing is underway to confirm the virus is H1N1 influenza A, he added.

Alberta Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld said Saturday the outbreak shouldn't affect Alberta's export markets.

"Border closures are certainly unwarranted," he said. "We'll see what transpires. (The Americans) at this point have no problems with the export of our pork."

Alberta farmers raise about 1.6 million hogs. They exported about 600,000 of them last year, for sales of about $50 million.

Egypt last week ordered the slaughter of all the country's 300,000 pigs even though no cases of swine flu have been reported there. The World Health Organization has said the move was unnecessary because the virus is being spread through humans.

Studies show that flu viruses are usually killed during processing and, if not, by the heat applied during cooking, Ben Embarek said. Cured hams are also safe because of the long duration it takes for them to mature, he added.

"There is no reason to start destroying these wonderful, traditional cured products," Ben Embarek said. "You can continue to safely eat your prosciutto."

 
 
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