Birds hog the spotlight, but pigs might play a role in flu

US - While birds receive most of the attention when it comes to experts worrying about a pandemic caused by avian influenza, there is another creature that could play an important role - the pig.

Most human cases of avian flu have involved close contact between humans and birds, which are able to sicken one another with certain flu viruses.

But swine also can become infected with these flu strains, said John Burke, chief of infectious diseases at Salt Lake City's LDS Hospital.

Human and bird flu viruses swarming around inside swine can result in new strains as gene mixing takes place. The pig becomes host to a genetic stew that could spit out unexpected new versions of the flu.

Because there is no way to predict which strain of the flu could spark a pandemic, it remains unclear whether pigs will actually have a part in the potential problem. But they remain an animal to monitor in areas dealing with avian influenza.

A number of influenza viruses have been detected first in Southeast Asia, a place filled with small farms. In many cases, farmers and their families live in close contact with pigs, chickens, ducks and other animals.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune
calendar icon 10 January 2006
clock icon 1 minute read
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