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News 723 views update:May 12, 2010

Poultry connection strengthens H1N1 pandemic

The detection of an H1N1 virus in turkeys in Chile raises concern that poultry farms elsewhere in the world could also become infected with the pandemic flu virus currently circulating in humans, the US FAO has stated.

Chilean authorities reported on 20 August that the pandemic H1N1/2009 virus was present in turkeys in two farms near the seaport of Valparaiso, Chile. The flu strain found in the poultry flocks is identical to the H1N1/2009 pandemic strain currently circulating among human populations around the world.

“The reaction of the Chilean authorities to the discovery of H1N1 in turkeys — namely prompt reporting to international organizations, establishing a temporary quarantine, and the decision to allow infected birds to recover rather than culling them — is scientifically sound,” said FAO’s interim Chief Veterinary Officer, Juan Lubroth.

“Once the sick birds have recovered, safe production and processing can continue. They do not pose a threat to the food chain,” said Lubroth.

The current H1N1 virus strain is a mixture of human, pig and bird genes and has proved to be very contagious but no more deadly than common seasonal flu viruses. However, it could theoretically become more dangerous if it adds virulence by combining with H5N1.

“Chile does not have H5N1 flu. In South-East Asia where there is a lot of the virus circulating in poultry, the introduction of H1N1 in these populations would be of a greater concern,” said Lubroth.

Even though the clinical infections in pigs and turkeys so far observed have been generally mild, it is important to bear in mind that the establishment of pandemic H1N1 virus in pig and poultry farms has the potential to bring about negative economic consequences such as trade related restrictions and misguided perceptions of the quality and safety of meat products, according to FAO. 

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• FAO

Natalie Berkhout

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