WASHINGTON - Health experts in the United States fear that if the deadly bird flu hits the country then pigs could also be at risk since they are vulnerable to the H5N1 virus. The bird flu or the avian influenza virus has already claimed 70 lives in Asia and has appeared in parts of Europe including Ukraine.
Around 150 million birds have been slaughtered in an effort to contain the virus. However, experts fear that if it mutates to a form that is easily transmissible among humans, then a worldwide pandemic will result claiming millions of lives. "Not only do poultry people need to look into increasing their biosecurity, so do the swine farmers," said John El-Attrache, a veterinary pathologist with Texas A&M University. "Bird flu can readily infect a swine species and for the most part, go from swine on into humans." But pigs have had nothing to do with the spread of the disease. They serve as a receptor of the virus creating a new one that can spread easily among humans. "There is a lot of what could best be described as speculation between how the (H5N1) virus might travel, in between what species and what kind of timeline it's on," said Julie Craven, a spokeswoman for Hormel Foods Corp., which buys pigs for meat products. The National Pork Board also admitted that it was carefully monitoring the situation, "We have to make sure we're doing everything we can to keep it out of our herds and keep it from spreading to protect our species," said Liz Wagstrom, a veterinarian with the NPB.