Preparing to monitor swine flu outbreak

PULLMAN — A vital part of the mission of WSU’s School for Global Animal Health is to conduct heightened surveillance for diseases that occur at the interface of humans and animals. As a member of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, Washington’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory has prepared for heightened surveillance and testing during the current outbreak of swine influenza.
“Our laboratory is ready to conduct heightened surveillance for the human H1N1, the so-called swine flu virus, if it occurs in animals,” said Terry McElwain a professor in the  School for Global Animal Heath and executive director of the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. “As part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, our ability to assist public and animal health by conducting tests for such diseases is always ready. Testing procedures for the Influenza A viruses, the type of virus causing this outbreak in humans, have been revalidated for the current outbreak strain.”
McElwain explained the tests at WSU are designed to provide rapid results for animal samples within a matter of hours, which if positive would be further characterized and immediately reported to the appropriate state agencies, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory, and the Centers for Disease Control. Further verification would then determine whether the positive result was due to the H1N1 human virus.
“WSU was a founding member of this network of laboratories established to provide just this type of service as well as maintain a vigilant outlook for diseases around the clock every day,” said McElwain. “We are ready to advise and test samples from any suspicious respiratory disease occurrences right now and we encourage producers to contact the laboratory if they have any concerns or if they want to submit samples.
“Right now, this disease has not been confirmed in animals including swine anywhere so it is inaccurate to refer to it as swine flu. This broad category called Influenza A viruses, like this H1N1 infecting humans, often has genetic material from birds, humans, and swine it has accumulated through passages between species over time.”
Because the virus has not been isolated in pigs, McElwain urged swine producers to continue heightened biosecurity measures as recommended by the USDA, the Washington Department of Agriculture and state and national pork production organizations. 
Washington’s swine industry is very small compared to other states and animals are widely dispersed providing another means of physical protection.
“Pork producers should be concerned, as they always are, that humans can in fact bring disease to their animals and strict adherence to simple biosecurity measures can extraordinarily reduce that risk,” he said.
McElwain also said the public needs to keep this in perspective and consult only reputable sources of information. “The USDA, the CDC, the state’s animal and public health systems, and producer groups all have abundant, competent information for people to read and understand in lay terms and I encourage people to use them often as they are updates to be informed and not worry unnecessarily.”
The School of Global Animal Health received a $25 million grant in March 2008, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help construct a $35 million building to house the school.  Sunday, the Washington Legislature passed a budget that included bonding ability for $6.2 million to help complete the funding needed to begin construction.

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