Although this winter’s influenza season is now in full force in both the human and swine populations, it’s not too late to follow key biosecurity and health protocols to keep yourself, farm personnel and your herd healthy and influenza-free.

“We strongly recommend that farm workers and those who may be around pigs get an annual influenza vaccination,” says swine veterinarian Lisa Becton, Pork Checkoff’s director of swine health information and research. “This step can help reduce the risk of getting sick and bringing influenza to the farm or workplace. In addition, it demonstrates the industry’s We Care ethical principle is in action to help protect employees, animals and public health.”

On the farm personnel front, Becton advises producers to review their farm’s sick-leave policy closely as influenza is typically more transmissible in its early stages than it is later during a typical bout with the illness. “People may remain contagious for up to five to seven days after getting sick, so that’s why it’s so crucial that employers have a sick-leave policy that encourages those experiencing symptoms of influenza-like illness to stay home.”

On the animal side, Becton urges producers to work with their herd veterinarian to have and follow a strict biosecurity plan that includes a comprehensive whole-herd swine vaccination program. Influenza A virus in swine (IAV-S) is a major threat to animal health. Steps to prevent the spread of influenza through herd vaccination can help to maintain healthy pigs.

At the farm level, producers have additional procedures that can mitigate flu transmission. These include maintaining good building ventilation and good hygiene, maintaining solid bird-proofing of buildings and using farm-specific clothing and footwear. Where available, swine workers should use shower-in/shower-out facilities. For all farms, strengthen the use of personal protective equipment. Wearing items such as N-95 respirators and disposable gloves, practicing frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth areas all help to reduce the potential for flu transmission.

Swine health experts also advise producers not to overlook untreated surface water as a potential reservoir of influenza virus on the farm. This is especially true if wild or domestic waterfowl make use of it, as they are known to transmit influenza viruses. For this reason, producers should ensure that any pig drinking water does not come from these sources.

“It’s extremely important for producers to monitor their herds’ health status every day,” Becton says. “If you suspect influenza has infected your animals, contact your herd veterinarian immediately so you can take action quickly to manage any sick pigs and keep diseases such as influenza from spreading.”

Key on-farm actions to take if flu is suspected can include submitting swine samples, such as nasal swabs, to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Ongoing surveillance, in cooperation with USDA and the diagnostic laboratories, is very important to be able to understand what strains of influenza are occurring in the national swine herd and to learn if current vaccines available for swine can protect against those viruses. (See Producers Guide to Influenza Surveillance.)

Becton adds, “By taking the appropriate steps to protect both public and animal health against influenza, producers are clearly putting the We Care principles into action.”