'Swine influenza' name sickens U.S. pork markets

AVMA issues statement; efforts underway to rename virus

Published: April 29, 2009
By Jennifer Fiala

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) wants the public to know that outbreak of swine flu is not connected to pigs or pork consumption. Exposure to animals is not a risk factor for infection; the virus appears to spread via human-to-human contact. 

The statement, issued today, is echoed by National Pork Board and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. 

“The AVMA is working with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) and so far there have been no reports of outbreaks among swine herds, although members of the group are stepping up surveillance for the virus and keeping in close contact with federal and state animal health officials,” says Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA's chief executive officer.

It's an "unfortunate" name, adds Dr. Bret Marsh, Indiana state veterinarian and AVMA treasurer. “The reality is that swine flu hasn’t been found in swine populations in the United States.”

The virus, which reportedly contains genetic components of several influenza strains, including bird flu, two versions of swine flu and human influenza, was dubbed "swine flu" as news agencies covered its emergence. To date, the new H1N1 virus has not been isolated in animals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. 

But as the new strain spreads, its name wreaks havoc on international swine markets, including those in the United States. Producers are reporting a sharp slowdown in pork sales during the past week as nations like Russia and China ban pork imports from certain U.S. areas and Mexico. In response, the World Organization for Animal Health says that the strain should more accurately be called North American influenza, based on its geographic origin.

Still, the swine influenza label has already done significant damage, says Dr. Harry Snelson, AASV communications director.

"There's a serious issue there from a consumer perception standpoint," he says. "It's very misleading to have swine involved with (the new H1N1 virus), or any other species. Our effort at this point is to keep it out of the U.S. swine population." 

Total known U.S. cases of human infection reached 91 today, including one reported fatality in Texas. The virus has been identified in 10 states. 

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.