Food safety experts with the World Health Organization (WHO) said Sunday they were not surprised that the influenza strain that has sickened hundreds of humans around the world has been found in pigs at an Alberta farm.
"I must say we expected that at some point since this virus has swine virus elements that we would find possibly the virus in swine pigs in the region where the virus is circulating," said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food safety scientist.
He said the WHO learned of the pig infections Saturday when Canadian health officials announced that the swine flu virus found in a herd of Alberta pigs appears to be the same as the one affecting humans.
Health officials said that a farm worker who travelled to Mexico and fell ill upon his return last month apparently infected the pigs with the H1N1 influenza virus.
About 220 pigs in the herd of 2,200 began showing signs of the flu on April 24, said Canada's top veterinary officer, Dr. Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The herd in central Alberta has been quarantined, and many of the animals have recovered.
Embarek stressed the need for anyone who might be infected with the flu virus to stay away from pig farms.
The WHO scientist said Canadian officials and their U.S. and Mexican counterparts have increased their surveillance activities, but so far no other cases of this particular H1N1 strain have been detected in other pigs. However, he added it is possible it could happen again.
Embarek reassured the public that the virus is not a food-borne disease, and as long as pork is cooked, there's no chance of infection.
Meanwhile, Canada's swine flu caseload swelled Saturday to 85 cases as health officials confirmed a host of new cases in Nova Scotia, Alberta and Quebec and British Columbia.
For now, the WHO pandemic level remains at Phase 5.