November 20, 2020


Human swine influenza in Alberta, Canada, poses low risk



A case of swine influenza H1N2 virus that was contracted by a human in central Alberta, Canada, is believed to be an isolated incident with a low threat to either other people or pigs.


The case was detected in mid-October after the affected person sought medical care showing symptoms of flu.


On November 4, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said that this was the first reported case of a human getting H1N2.


The virus is not easily transmitted between humans. There have only been 27 cases recorded globally since 2005 that are all connected to direct or indirect contact with pigs and none have led to "sustained human to human transmission," said Hinshaw.


"Influenza viruses that normally circulate in pigs, including H1N2, can infect people although this is not common. The patient experienced mild symptoms, was tested and then quickly recovered. There was no evidence at this time that the virus had spread further."


Hinshaw further assured: "H1N2 is not a food-related illness. It is not transmissible to people through pork meat or other products that come from pigs. There is no risk associated with eating pork."


As of November 4, the investigation into the source is ongoing.


H1N2 influenza in hogs is a provincially notifiable disease, which means veterinarians must report any cases within 24 hours of discovery which brought Alberta's chief veterinarian, Dr. Keith Lehman into the picture.


Lehman said that potential sources were being checked. There could also be an average of 10 to 30 H1N2 cases per quarter in Alberta.


"It is a virus that is not uncommon in our swine populations," said Lehman. "Typically when we do have influenza in our swine populations, it's actually not even uncommon for it to be in a herd and not show any signs of clinical disease. But when it does show up, typically, it's pretty mild."


According to Lehman, the particular strain of influenza has become more prevalent in recent years but H1N2 is not considered to be a major threat. Typical bio-security measures in place in swine operations limit the risk of spread to other farms.


Symptoms of H1N2 in pigs include fever, sneezing, breathing difficulties, eye redness and lack of appetite. In rare cases - such as this incident - proved that H1N2 can spread to humans.


Alberta's government has advised people who are in contact with pigs to protect themselves with frequent hand washing and avoiding contact with pigs that appear to be sick. If such contact is necessary, wearing protective clothing, gloves and masks are necessary.


Hinshaw said optional influenza testing will be offered to residents in parts of central Alberta if they come for COVID-19 testing at an Alberta Health Services assessment centre.


 - The Western Producer