Christopher W. Olsen University of Wisconsin

Resources Authored


Influenza: Pigs, People and Public Health

Publish Date: June 3, 2006

Swine influenza viruses were first isolated in the United States in 1930. Since that time, they have become an economically important cause of respiratory disease in pigs throughout the world, and a human public health risk. The clinical signs/symptoms of influenza in pigs and people are remarkably similar, with fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing prominent in both species. Furthermore, influenza viruses can be directly transmitted from pigs to people as zoonotic disease agents, and vice versa, from people to pigs. These interspecies infections are most likely to occur when people are in close proximity to pigs, such as in swine production barns, livestock exhibits at fairs, and slaughterhouses. Finally, because of their unique susceptibility to infection with influenza viruses of both mammalian and avian species, pigs can serve as intermediaries in the transmission of influenza viruses from birds to people. The birds of greatest concern are wild waterfowl, because these species provide an immense natural reservoir of influenza viruses. Replication of avian influenza viruses in pigs may allow them to adapt to and be able to efficiently infect mammals, and ultimately be transmitted to people. In addition, pigs can serve as hosts in which two (or more) influenza viruses can undergo genetic reassortment. This is a process in which influenza viruses exchange genes during replication. The influenza viruses responsible for the worldwide 1957 and 1968 pandemics of human influenza were reassortant viruses with genes from both human and avian influenza viruses. Veterinarians can help pig producers design farms and develop management and personnel policies to minimize interspecies transmission of influenza viruses, thereby contributing to the health of both the swine and human populations.

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