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FEHD releases latest results of influenza virus surveillance in pigs

     The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) today (February 14) announced the latest round of results of the regular influenza virus surveillance programme for pigs at the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse conducted by the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

     Among some 1,500 samples collected and tested from mid-October 2011 to January 2012, one sample tested positive for the human swine influenza virus (pandemic H1N1).

     A total of 27 samples were found to contain viruses that were essentially swine influenza viruses but had picked up some genes of human swine influenza virus. Among them, two samples were detected with a swine influenza, H3N2, while the remaining 25 samples had H1N2. Swine influenza viruses carrying the genes of the human swine influenza virus were also found in the last two rounds of the surveillance programme (i.e. for May to July and August to October last year).

     According to Professor JSM Peiris, the HKU expert in charge of the surveillance programme, given the wide transmission of the pandemic H1N1 virus in humans, detection of the virus in pigs is no surprise. Positive findings might continue to appear from time to time in future.

     "There have been similar reports from many parts of the world showing that swine influenza viruses carried the genes of the human swine influenza virus. Such viruses are unlikely to pose any major human health risk or cause problems in food safety," Professor Peiris added.

     Under the regular influenza virus surveillance programme for pigs, the CFS has been helping HKU researchers to collect blood and tracheal and nasal swabs from pigs at the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse twice a month to monitor influenza virus activity in pigs.

     "The CFS will continue to monitor reports of the HKU surveillance programme and make announcements on a regular basis. Results will be announced immediately if there are significant public health impacts," a CFS spokesman said.

     According to the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, human swine influenza will not be contracted by consuming pork and pork products that are handled properly and thoroughly cooked. Members of the public are advised that it is safe to eat pork and pork products that are cooked to an internal temperature of 70 degrees Celsius or above.

     The spokesman said that all imported live pigs from the Mainland come from registered farms and are accompanied with animal health certificates issued by the Mainland authorities.

     "Officers from the FEHD will inspect the certificates and health of the imported pigs at the boundary control points. Both imported and local pigs have to go through ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections in slaughterhouses. Only pigs that pass the inspections can be supplied to the market and sold for consumption," he added.

     The FEHD has also reminded slaughterhouse staff and people who might be in contact with live pigs to pay attention to personal hygiene and to wear masks and appropriate protective gear at work.

     The spokesman said the CFS has been keeping close liaison with the Mainland authorities over any abnormal situation concerning Mainland farms supplying live pigs to Hong Kong, and farm inspections would be stepped up when necessary.

     In addition, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department also closely monitors the health situation of pigs in Hong Kong and regularly reminds local pig farmers to maintain good farm and personal hygiene and report to the department any abnormality in farms.

Ends/Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:31


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