Video: Man infects pigs with flu

updated 5/3/2009 2:44:53 PM ET 2009-05-03T18:44:53

Pork, ham and sausages are safe to eat, the World Health Organization said Sunday.

That was the primary message from the daily press conference at the organization's Geneva headquarters, a day after Canadian officials said pigs on a farm there were infected with the swine flu virus. Swine flu has now infected hundreds of people, mostly in North America, and killed at least 19 in Mexico and one in the United States.

The World Health Organization and other organizations have been under pressure from pork lobbies to assure the public that food from pigs poses no risk.

The health body changed the name it uses to refer to swine flu after protests from the U.S. and other countries. Even non-health bodies such as the World Trade Organization are saying trade barriers against pork are unjustified.

"You don't get this disease through eating pork, and therefore there is no reason to be afraid of eating pork or pork products," said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO senior scientist on food safety. "As long as pork is cooked the way we normally cook meat, there is no problem and no risk at all to get this disease."

Ben Embarek said studies have shown that flu viruses are usually killed during processing and, if not, by the heat applied during cooking. Cured hams are also safe because of the long duration it takes for them to mature, he said.

"There is no reason to start destroying these wonderful, traditional cured products," Ben Embarek said. "You can continue to safely eat your prosciutto."

Ben Embarek said the cases of swine flu in pigs in Alberta are "not surprising and could be expected from a virus like this." He said about 220 pigs from a herd of 2,200 — or 10 percent — were infected by a farm worker who had recently been to Mexico.

"This tells us that, for the animal population, it doesn't seem to be a very serious disease," he said.

Ben Embarek said it was impossible to predict whether the virus would mutate into a milder or more serious illness if it should pass back and forth between pigs and humans.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said a scientific meeting would take place Monday at WHO, and focus on determining the swine flu virus' incubation period and severity or mildness. It will also seek to establish what groups of people might be most vulnerable, he said.

He also commented on claims by Mexico's health secretary that the epidemic there is "in its declining phase."

"Certainly,  maybe, this current round of activity has peaked, but we are only 10 days into this outbreak," Hartl told reporters. "I think we would want to wait a while before making a definitive decision."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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