WASHINGTON - At least one pig from Minnesota has tested positive for the H1N1 virus, the US Department of Agriculture said yesterday, the first case of a pig contracting the virus in the United States.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA officials have begun to reach out to US trade partners and international organizations to emphasize that H1N1, also known as swine flu, cannot be contracted by eating pork products.
“We have fully engaged our trading partners to remind them . . . that there is no scientific basis to restrict trade in pork and pork products,’’ Vilsack said. “People cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products. Pork is safe to eat.’’
The USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the presence of H1N1 after an initial test suggested that as many as three pigs may have had the virus. USDA is continuing to conduct tests to confirm other potential positive tests from the pig samples.
The original samples were taken as a part of a university research project from pigs shown at the Minnesota State Fair between Aug. 26. and Sept. 1.
USDA officials have said that the pigs did not show signs of sickness, and officials suggested the animals probably contracted the virus from some of the nearly 1.8 million people who visited the fair.
Officials also said the infection of a so-called show pig doesn’t indicate an infection of commercial herds because show pigs are in separate segments of agriculture from the swine industry.
Agriculture officials have expected H1N1 to find its way to domestic pigs this year. Herd infections were already reported in Canada, Australia, Argentina, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Norway. A hog vaccine for the virus is being developed but isn’t yet available.
In a separate development, officials at hospitals across the country are changing their visitation rules because of the swine flu outbreak
Some hospitals are turning away visiting children and tightening restrictions on adults, in hopes of limiting spread of swine flu in the hallways.
There has been little study of whether curbing visitors, or screening them for symptoms, keeps flu from spreading in a hospital. Hospital workers can also bring the virus from home.
Consequently, neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the American Hospital Association has set guidelines on the issue.
Practices vary widely across the country. State health officials in Utah and Colorado are recommending visitor limits for hospitals, but the final decision is up to the individual hospitals.
The Stanford University Hospital in California yesterday barred anyone under 16 from visiting, while Central Vermont Hospital turned away visitors under 12. Other hospitals have settled on ages 14 or 18.
The Indiana Heart Hospital said it isn’t checking for age but for symptoms: Visitors are supposed to answer some questions and wear a green sticker showing they were cleared to enter.
In the Washington, D.C., suburbs, the Inova Health System hospital chain is warning pregnant women they can have just one visitor during their stay in the maternity ward, and it has canceled its popular what-to-expect tours for the soon-to-deliver.
Still other hospitals are trying education instead of rules, posting signs that urge people of any age to postpone visits if they have a sniffle or cough. Atlanta’s Emory University is discouraging but not barring children - while stocking lots of hand sanitizer and face masks for visitors that, judging by frequent refills, are getting used.