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Swine Flu Source Apparently Not Pigs, says FAO

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is responding to the swine flu outbreak by sending out emergency assessment teams and monitoring whether any evidence appears that the disease is actually affecting pigs and not just humans. Joseph Domenech, the FAO's chief veterinary officer spoke to VOA about what actions the agency is taking.

"The FAO is doing, as a technical agency…alerting all the countries and governments through people in the field, through very active rumor tracking of anything which could happen in pigs," he said. "One is to confirm that pigs are not the origin of the human crisis. And second, to be ready to detect and respond if there is an infection of pigs from this new virus coming from humans."

An FAO assessment team is heading for Mexico, along with experts from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. "We have mobilized funds to assist our country members to strengthen their surveillance system in pig production," Domenech said.

Clarifying the apparent lack of evidence of pig involvement, he added, "Today, all the processes we are working on are based on the fact that the crisis is human to human without intervention of pigs. It's a pure contagious human to human (transmission) and there is no declaration, there is no rumor, there is no identification of flu in pigs. Of course, this has also to be carefully investigated more than it was before…. We hope that it will be confirmed."

Domenech has taken the lead for the FAO in efforts to track the spread and control avian flu. Asked to compare avian flu and swine flu, he said, "It's totally different in the sense that the avian flu was and still is an avian problem of the poultry sector with millions of dead and killed animals."

The big fear has been a mutant strain of bird flu causing a human pandemic. That has not happened. As for swine flu, he said, "In this case it's totally the contrary. It's human and pigs are, for the moment, not involved."

The FAO will step up efforts to support member countries in carefully monitoring the pig population. "Obviously, if pigs become infected this could be a problem for pig production and for humans because it will contribute to the epidemiological cycle," he says.