Following Biosecurity Steps Help Ensure Healthy Swine

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Barb Straw, large animal clinical scientist, said there is no sign of H1N1 in U.S. swine herds. (view larger image)

As media coverage for the H1N1 influenza virus (previously called “swine flu”) continues to wax and wane, many wonder what the connection is to pigs. The origin of the virus is still being investigated, but MAES large animal clinical scientist Barb Straw, a swine veterinarian who specializes in disease management, said there is no sign of the virus in swine herds in the United States—and she credits strict biosecurity protocols for keeping H1N1 out of swine populations.

“There has been much public interest and concern about the new H1N1 influenza virus,” Straw said. “The primary concern remains human to human transfer, but people with pigs should also be concerned about transferring the virus from human to animal.”

Straw said all pig owners, including those with 4-H swine projects and backyard breeders, should take extra precautions to ensure that this new flu strain doesn’t infect their pigs.

“Owners of pigs that are involved in shows and fairs have a particularly difficult challenge in guarding the health of their pigs,” she said. “To protect the health of their own pigs and the health of the entire pork industry, they should practice as many of the 10 steps for biosecurity as possible.”

The 10 steps for biosecurity on swine farms are:

  1. Quarantine all incoming stock and purchase pigs only from high health herds whose health status is compatible with that of your herd. New feeder pigs should be quarantined a minimum of 21 days, and new breeding stock, a minimum of 60 days.
  2. Provide clean boots and coveralls for all employees and visitors to your herd, and do not allow any employee or visitor showing influenza symptoms access to your herd.
  3. All animal caretakers on the farm should change into clean boots and coveralls upon entering each barn. Clean footbaths may be appropriate within a barn for different rooms.
  4. Minimize the entry of equipment and supplies into the pig barn. Take appropriate precautions such as disinfecting any equipment entering or reentering your farm.
  5. Prevent the access of wild animals (rodents and birds) or pets (dogs and cats) to pigs. Use screens in windows, air inlets, doors, etc.
  6. Restrict entry to essential personnel. Only animal caretakers and visitors wearing clean clothes and boots should be allowed to work with pigs.
  7. Provide shower facilities for visitors or a place to change into clean clothes.
  8. If sows are bred using artificial insemination, purchase semen from a genetics supplier who routinely tests for PRRS virus and other infectious agents.
  9. Ensure that feed and water sources are clean and free from infectious agents.
  10. Review your biosecurity plan and herd health program, including vaccination protocols, with your veterinarian on a regular basis.

Straw said large swine farms have an advantage in developing biosecurity protocols because they can strictly limit the number of people who come in contact with animals.

“Most large hog farms have already adopted all 10 of the biosecurity points, and they should take extra precautionary biosecurity measures with employees,” Straw said. “Any employee who is showing symptoms of influenza infection should not be allowed to work with pigs until he/she is fully recovered.”

Straw said that those who exhibit pigs in fairs and other shows should exercise added caution.

“Implementing any one of these suggestions will reduce the risk of disease entry and each additional step that’s implemented will further reduce biosecurity risks,” she said. “Participating in these events and then allowing the animals to return home increases the risk of spreading infectious disease. They should be treated as potentially infected animals.”

Straw said show pigs that return home should be isolated from other pigs for at least 21 days. The quarantine facilities should be as far from the regular herd as possible, and the person providing daily care should change into clean clothes and boots before working with other pigs on the farm.

“There may be instances when state and fair officials are forced to change fair and show schedules to reduce the risk of disease transfer,” she said. “In these rare occasions, exhibitors and their families must remember that it is important to maintain the health and safety of the nation¬ís swine herd.”

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