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MSU health experts encourage precautions
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The so-called swine flu has not been detected in any U.S. hogs, and no Mississippians have been diagnosed in the initial cases, but the outbreak signals the need for continued health precautions even as seasonal flu cases subside.
Dr. Bill Epperson, head of pathobiology and population medicine with Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said this new strain of the classic H1N1 virus is misnamed when referred to as swine flu.
“It’s only affecting humans, but the genome has human, swine and avian parts,” Epperson said. “Preliminary investigations revealed that none of the infected people had contact with hogs. A different strain of the H1N1 virus, called the Spanish flu, caused the 1918 epidemic.”
The number that follow the H and N indicate different subtypes of type A influenza viruses. The three most commonly spread among humans are H1N1, H1N2 and H3N2. The often-referenced avian flu is H5N1.
Epperson said people should employ healthy practices to avoid this and other viruses.
“Washing or sanitizing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with sick people and taking care of yourself with plenty of sleep, exercise and good nutrition are some ways to protect against illnesses,” Epperson said.
The timing of this outbreak, just as the common flu season is concluding in the United States, should work as an advantage, he said.
“Flu outbreaks increase during the winter months, when people spend more time inside with others. As temperatures warm up, people go outside more, and there is less transmission of viruses,” he said.
Epperson said out of “an abundance of caution,” the swine industry is increasing its emphasis on biosecurity. The poultry industry has been on high alert for some time because of concerns about the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu, which has not been detected in any U.S. flocks.
Jason M. Behrends, assistant Extension and research professor in Food, Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion at MSU, said people cannot get swine flu from eating pork products.
“We have not identified any food safety issues related to the flu,” Behrends said. “Properly handled pork products cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees are safe to consume.”
Avoid cross-contaminating raw and cooked pork during the preparation process.
“If you have raw pork on a cutting board or dish, do not place cooked pork or any other food on the same surface before it has been cleaned thoroughly with hot water and soap,” he said.