Share “Flu outbreak alarms Oklahoma hog farmers”

BY SONYA COLBERG Published: May 8, 2009
"They are inspected and the farms themselves have their own veterinarians.”

Financial losses

Lindsey said the Oklahoma Pork Council obviously is concerned about the human health perspective.

"We’re very relieved it appears the virus ... has been relatively easy for folks to treat and deal with,” he said. "At the same time, our producers are suffering economically as a result of it.”

Though contract farmers don’t seem to be hurting as much, the financial impact on independent farmers can be staggering.

After 15 years as one of those independent farmers, Hoelscher said he won’t be able to operate much longer because he will run out of equity and the bank eventually will require him to shut down. He said a lot of farmers have mortgaged everything they have during the past year and a half.


Pig farms routinely look for and test for diseases, including influenza. Since the outbreak of swine flu, they’ve added that virus to those tested for, said Paul Sunderg, a veterinarian with the National Pork Board.

Sunderg said no regulation is needed because testing for viruses is in the best interest of producers. And the Centers for Disease Control has a long-standing surveillance program, he said.

"If people put into place the recommendations we have for biosecurity, that’s the best they can do at this point,” Sunderg said. "The pork producers are really paying attention.”

Tyson Foods routinely vaccinates all breeding stock for influenza, spokesman Gary Mickelson said.

Iowa State University to determine what strain is involved, so we can make sure we’re using the most

Safety measures

Lonnie Hoelscher, a Bartlesville independent pig producer, said he sometimes allowed visitors from the local school or church to tour the farm. When he did, everyone wore throw-away suits, boots and respiratory masks and he made sure no one had been around other pigs in the previous three days.

His pigs are kept in buildings so there’s no contact with outside animals, rodents or wild animals, he said. Hoelscher and other workers had separate sets of shoes to feed the pigs or work with cattle or horses.

"The idea of pigs running around in a mud lot is not very healthy, one, and, two, is messy,” he said. "They are very clean animals if you give them the proper environment; give them opportunity to stay clean.”

With the concern over swine flu, though, he said his farm is best described as closed.

"When they come out and say it’s swine flu, they’re (consumers) scared to death to buy pork,” said John Gibbs, a 15-year Tyson contract farmer from Holdenville. "It has nothing to do with pigs.”

He said even the state technician who routinely tests the farm water now calls before he stops by. Along with measures such as not allowing visitors from other farms to visit until three days have passed, the few people who do visit his farm must wear rubber boots dipped in a disinfectant.

Information and resources

News and resources dealing with flu, pneumonia and allergy issues, including more information on the swine flu investigation and a timeline of human flu pandemics.

Q&A with Llelwyn Grant, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Q: How effective is the swine flu vaccine for pigs for this combination virus, H1N1, that contains human, bird and swine elements?

A: The current vaccine for pigs may provide some protection, but it’s not 100 percent certain it will protect from this current strain. In dealing with the new strain, as far as people go, we are still at the developmental level of coming up with a new vaccine.

Q: What’s to keep swine flu from jumping from the Canadian herd to U.S. herds to U.S. residents?

A: There is always that possibility, of course, but what we encourage people to do is step up their protocol, particularly among those who deal with pig herds, to ensure that we don’t have spread.

Q&A with Jorgen Schlundt, World Health Organization:

Q: Considering the international flu outbreak, what are the chances that the Canadian herd they say has H1N1 could transfer the flu to humans?

A: Transfer from animals to humans has not been established with the new influenza A/H1N1, and from what we presently know, has not happened in the Canadian herd, either. The theory until now has been that the pigs were infected from a human, although we yet have no confirmation.

Q: Has an influenza or other disease ever been known to jump from animal to human?

A: Influenza viruses have jumped many times from especially pigs and birds to humans. They have also jumped in the other direction.


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