Santiago, Chile Chile said Friday that tests show swine flu has jumped to birds, opening a new chapter in the global epidemic.
Top flu and animal-health experts with the United Nations in Rome and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were monitoring the situation, but said the infected turkeys have suffered only mild effects, easing concern about a potentially dangerous development.
Chile’s turkey meat remains safe to eat, the experts said, and so far there have been no signs of a deadly mutation. None of the birds have died from this flu, according to the farms’ owner, Sopraval SA.
Chile’s Health Ministry said it ordered a quarantine Friday at two turkey farms outside the port city of Valparaiso after genetic tests confirmed sick birds were afflicted with the same virus that has caused a pandemic among humans. The infected birds are contained within closed buildings, preventing any spread to wild birds, the farms’ owner said.
So far, the virus — a mixture of human, pig and bird genes — has proved to be very contagious but no more deadly than common seasonal flu. However, virus experts fear a more dangerous and easily transmitted strain could emerge if it combines again with avian flu, which is far more deadly but tougher to pass along.
Sopraval alerted the agriculture ministry after egg production dropped at the farms this month. After initial tests on four samples, further genetic testing confirmed a match with the subtype A/H1N1 2009, the agriculture and health ministries announced.
“What the turkeys have is the human virus — there is no mutation at all,” Deputy Health Minister Jeannette Vega told Chile’s Radio Cooperativa on Friday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a longstanding avian influenza surveillance program that it says would detect any H1N1 virus outbreak in U.S. poultry. The USDA recently infected ducks, chickens, turkeys and quail in lab experiments, and none became clinically ill.
In Chile, the virus has infected at least 12,000 people and killed 128. Throughout the Americas, as of Aug. 14, 105,882 confirmed cases were reported from all 35 countries, including 1,579 deaths in 22 countries.