WASHINGTON (AP) - Pigs in Minnesota may have tested positive for the H1N1 virus in a preliminary test, the first potential U.S. cases in swine, Agriculture Department officials said Friday.
The officials cautioned that further tests were needed to confirm that the pigs had been infected with H1N1, also known as swine flu virus. The pigs did not exhibit signs of sickness and may have been infected by a group of children with the virus, they said.
Samples from the pigs that may have tested positive were collected at the Minnesota State Fair between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1. USDA officials did not say how many pigs may have tested positive.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that testing was under way and results should be available in a matter of days. He says the USDA was working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vilsack said the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories would be conducting tests to confirm the results.
Vilsack asked for caution from consumers and said people should not react to the news by avoiding pork products.
"I want to remind people that people cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products," he said.
Vilsack's caution aside, the news is clearly unwelcome for the pork industry. Producers had been struggling before the H1N1 virus gained public attention. Advocates have worked assiduously to distance the pork industry from the H1N1 virus, but Friday's news once again ties the two.
Agriculture officials have said they expected H1N1 to reach domestic pigs this year. It has led pork producers to push for a hog vaccine for the virus. H1N1 infections of swine herds have previously been reported in Canada, Australia and Argentina but not previously the United States.
The potentially positive test was discovered by a CDC research project conducted by the University of Iowa and University of Minnesota, which is documenting instances of influenza viruses where humans and pigs regularly interact, such as state fairs.
A record crowd of nearly 1.8 million people attended the 2009 Minnesota State Fair, which is held annually in a St. Paul, Minn., suburb.
More than 100 students from two 4-H programs were sent home from the fair on Sept. 2 after health officials confirmed four students had come down with swine flu. Friday's USDA announcement said no link between the pigs and the children had been made and said current information suggests the children were not sickened by the pigs.