Turkeys at two farms in Chile recently tested positive for the same strain of H1N1 (swine flu) that has been infecting humans, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

Experts are concerned that other poultry farms around the world could be affected. 

FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth, DVM, PhD, says the Chilean incidents pose no immediate threat to humans and that veterinarian-inspected turkey remains safe. 

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

 H1N1 is a mixture of human, pig and bird genes that has proved to be very contagious, but no more deadly than common seasonal flu viruses. It could, theoretically, become more virulent if it combines with H5N1 (avian flu)—more deadly, but harder to contract. 

“Chile does not have H5N1 flu,” Dr. Lubroth explains. “In Southeast 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.” 

Hygienic and safe farming practices must be followed, he says. This includes protecting farm workers who care for, or work near, sick animals. 

“We must monitor the situation in animals more closely and strengthen veterinary services in poor and in-transition countries,” Dr. Lubroth says. “They need adequate diagnostic capability and competent and suitably resourced field teams that can respond to emergency needs.”

Photo courtesy of the CDC