While many people opt to get an annual flu vaccine, experts at The Ohio State University said it is important for those who work around animals to also protect themselves, because influenza affects a wide range of animals, including swine, and can transfer between people and livestock.
“The vast majority of influenza viruses circulating in pigs today has actually come from people,” said Andrew Bowman, associate professor with the Ohio State department of veterinary preventive medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
This is likely because producers or farmers sometimes go into the barn while they are feeling under the weather and are infected with the influenza virus, Bowman said.
The flu kills between 290,000 and 646,000 people worldwide each year. By comparison, the novel Wunan coronavirus has recently infected an extremely small fraction of people in the U.S., explained Scott Kenney, an assistant professor in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CFAES). Kenney is a part of the Food Animal Health Research Program, a CFAES unit affiliated with the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.
This year’s flu vaccine has only a 58% chance of protecting people from influenza B, the most common type of flu virus found in people.
Influenza A and influenza B are the two main types of flu virus, and the flu vaccine houses both. Humans are much more susceptible to type B, while pigs are much more vulnerable to type A and rarely get type B.
Types of flu viruses circulating among pigs can cross into people. Getting vaccinated might reduce the risk of a person acquiring these viruses and, at the very least, provides some level of protection, Bowman said.
“The best way to protect yourself from any virus is to get vaccinated,” Kenney said.
Influenza in pigs looks a lot like the symptoms people experience while they are battling the flu virus themselves. The pigs could show signs of flu by having nasal discharge, coughing, fever or even a lack of appetite, Bowman explained.
“Among pigs, in general, a lot of them will get sick with influenza but rarely die. Typically, they only die if they get a secondary bacterial infection along with the flu,” Bowman said.
For producers, if there are signs that your pigs already have influenza, it is important to take the proper precautions so that you do not get it. This should include protecting your respiratory tract by wearing an N95 respirator and communicating with your veterinarian to see which treatment plan is recommended.
Bowman suggested that pork producers should work with their local veterinarians to come up with a vaccination plan that includes which types of vaccines to administer and how frequently the vaccines should be given to the animal.