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Consumer Q and A: Pork Safety and H3N2 Influenza

What is H3N2 influenza?
Flu viruses, both in humans and animals, are constantly changing and evolving.  A new form of the influenza A virus called H3N2 has been identified in some livestock, specifically pigs.  This influenza causes the same type of symptoms as other flu strains:  runny nose, fever, fatigue and aches and pains.

How have people been impacted?
By August 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had identified approximately 30 people who have become ill. When H3N2 is detected in humans, it is called variant H3N2 or H3N2v.  People diagnosed in the Summer of 2012 all indicated that they had recently had contact with pigs while visiting fairs.

Can people pass this form of influenza to one another?  
While CDC believes that all recent cases stem from human contact with pigs, this strain does contain genetic components that would make human to human transmission possible, much as people transmit other flu viruses to each other.
 
Is pork safe to eat?

U.S. food safety and public health officials, including the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, have said that H3N2 is NOT a foodborne illness.  Consumers cannot contract H3N2 or H3N2v by handling or consuming pork.  Consumers do not need to make any dietary changes in the wake of this flu news. In fact, pork is nutrient dense and packed with the vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health.

But Iím still nervous. How do I ensure that my pork is safe?
You should continue to handle pork products in the same way that is recommended every day to ensure safety.  Keep it cold when transporting it home from the store and during storage. Wash hands thoroughly before preparing it. Keep raw pork separate from cooked foods. Wash anything that touched raw pork thoroughly with hot soapy water. Cook thoroughly and verify the temperature using a thermometer. And finally, refrigerate leftovers promptly.

What steps is the government taking to make sure the pork supply remains safe?

The U.S. has one of the finest meat inspection systems in the world. Federal veterinarians are in plants that process livestock at all times and check every pig before they enter plants to ensure that all are healthy and fit for consumption. Any pig showing signs of illness can be removed from the food supply at any time by federal veterinarians. Federal inspectors and U.S. pork producers work together to ensure the safest product is produced.
At the present time, federal vets are on heightened alert because maintaining a healthy pig herd in the U.S. is essential.

Are workers who work in contact with pigs or pork safe from this virus?
People who work on farms and in meat plants are being encouraged to follow good sanitation and biosecurity procedures to prevent transmission.  These steps include washing hands, using hand sanitizers and wearing protective garb provided by plants and farms.   Workers who are ill are encouraged to stay home and seek medical attention if they believe they have contracted any form of influenza.

My family wants to attend local events like fairs and petting zoos that have livestock.  Is that safe for my family?
Yes, it can be safe and fun experience for your family, but there are a few actions you can do to make it safer.  
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially after you have contact with animals; also when you  cough or sneeze.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If a tissue is not readily available, use your elbow joint to minimize hand contact.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Do not eat or drink near animals or animal pens.
It is also important to know that you can make the animal sick too.  If you or anyone in your family is ill, please avoid contact and minimize your exposure to livestock and other animals.

What should I do if I think I have the flu?
Federal health officials recommend that people showing signs of the flu see their doctors immediately.

 

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