H1N1 Detected in Hong Kong Slaughterhouse

HONG KONG - H1N1 was detected in Hong Kong’s slaughterhouse during regular influenza virus surveillance for pigs in Hong Kong’s slaughterhouse. Despite the detection of pandemic H1N1 in pigs in Hong Kong, it is unlikely that Hong Kong will impose any import suspension of pork or pigs in the future on the grounds of H1N1 concerns.
calendar icon 5 April 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

The Hong Kong government did not take any trade action against pig or pork imports in 2009 when there existed the threat of H1N1. The report did not identify the origin of the infected hogs as either imported from China or raised locally.

To monitor influenza virus activity in pigs, the University of Hong Kong has conducted a regular influenza surveillance program for over a decade. The Center for Food Safety, the food safety authority in Hong Kong, assists the program by collecting blood and tracheal and nasal swabs from pigs in the major slaughterhouse twice a month. (This is the only major slaughterhouse in Hong Kong slaughtering over 3,000 pigs each day and accounting for over 80 per cent of the daily production in the territory. The other two slaughterhouses slaughter less than 20 per cent of Hong Kong’s daily pig supplies. Hong Kong has a daily consumption of about 4,500 pigs. Imports from China account for over 95 per cent while the rest is supplied by local pig farms).

According to the latest surveillance report, 1,500 samples were collected and tested from mid-October 2011 to January 2012, one sample tested positive for the human swine influenza virus (pandemic H1N1). A total of 27 samples were found to contain viruses that were essentially swine influenza viruses but had picked up some genes of human swine influenza virus. Among them, two samples were detected with swine influenza, H3N2, while the remaining 25 samples had H1N2.

The University of Hong Kong has been monitoring swine influenza over a decade and pandemic H1N1 was first detected in samples obtained in the slaughterhouse in October 2009. The human swine influenza virus then has been occasionally found in the regular surveillance exercise.

The University professor who is in charge of the surveillance commented that with the wide transmission of the pandemic H1N1 virus in humans, detection of the virus in pigs is no surprise. He added that positive findings might continue to appear from time to time in future. The government’s announcement also relayed the professor’s comments that “there have been similar reports from many parts of the world showing that swine influenza viruses carried the genes of the human swine influenza virus. Such viruses are unlikely to pose any major human health risk or cause problems in food safety."

Unlike China, Hong Kong did not ban any pork imports from the U.S. in 2009 because of H1N1 outbreak. Given the findings of pandemic H1N1 virus in Hong Kong and the government’s relaying the expert’s message that the viruses are unlikely to cause problems in food safety, the Hong Kong government is unlikely to impose ban on pork imports from places where there are H1N1 cases.

The Hong Kong government has assured the public about food safety in pork by relaying the message from the World Health Organization that “human swine influenza will not be contracted by consuming pork and pork products that are handled properly and thoroughly cooked.“ The Hong Kong Center for Food Safety advises the public that it is safe to eat pork and pork products that are cooked to an internal temperature of 70 degrees Celsius or above.

To further assure the public of food safety in pork, the Hong Kong Center for Food Safety, alongside the announcement of the detection of pandemic H1N1, reminded the public that all imported live pigs from China come from registered farms and are accompanied with animal health certificates issued by the Mainland Chinese authorities. Furthermore, Hong Kong officers from the Center inspect the certificates and health of the imported pigs at the boundary control points. Both imported and local pigs have to go through ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections in slaughterhouses. Only pigs that pass the inspections can be supplied to the market and sold for consumption.

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