Key Facts about Swine Influenza (Swine Flu) in Pigs
Questions & Answers
Note: This page contains background information about swine influenza infections in pigs. For information about human seasonal influenza, visit the CDC seasonal flu website.
Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses do not usually infect humans, but rare human infections have occurred. (For more information about swine influenza infections in humans, see Variant Influenza Viruses in Humans). Swine flu viruses can cause high levels of illness in pig herds, but cause few deaths in pigs. Swine influenza viruses can circulate among swine throughout the year, but most outbreaks occur during the late fall and winter months similar to outbreaks in humans.
Like influenza viruses in humans and other animals, swine flu viruses change constantly. Pigs can be infected by avian influenza and human influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. When influenza viruses from different species infect pigs, the viruses can reassort (i.e. swap genes) and new viruses that are a mix of swine, human and/or avian influenza viruses can emerge. Over the years, different variations of swine flu viruses have emerged. At this time, there are three main influenza A virus subtypes that have been isolated in pigs in the United States: H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2.
Swine flu viruses are thought to be spread among pigs mostly through close contact and possibly from contaminated objects moving between infected and uninfected pigs. Infected swine herds, including those vaccinated against swine flu, may have sporadic disease, or may show only mild or no symptoms of infection.
Signs of swine flu in pigs can include fever, depression, coughing (barking), discharge from the nose or eyes, sneezing, breathing difficulties, eye redness or inflammation, and going off feed. Some pigs infected with influenza, however, may show no signs of illness at all.
H1N1 and H3N2 swine flu viruses are endemic among pig populations in the United States and something that the industry deals with routinely. Outbreaks among pigs normally occur in colder weather months (late fall and winter) , but can occur year round. While H1N1 swine viruses have been known to circulate among pig populations since at least 1930, H3N2 influenza viruses did not begin circulating among pigs in the United States until about 1998. The H3N2 viruses initially were introduced into the pig population from humans. However, since then the H3N2 viruses circulating in pigs have changed. The H3N2 viruses circulating in pigs now are very different from the seasonal H3N2 viruses that circulate in humans.
Just as there are influenza vaccines for people, there are specific swine influenza vaccines available for pigs.