Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) at Ames closely monitors the incidence of animal diseases, including those caused by swine influenza viruses (SIV).

The VDL uses state-of-the-art molecular diagnostic technology to diagnose SIV, track seasonal trends for prevalence and monitor which SIV strains or subtypes are most prevalent. This helps veterinarians and producers understand herd health status and appropriate vaccine or control measures.

The emergence of the H1N1 influenza A virus that sickened people has led ISU swine veterinarian and virologist K.J. Yoon and his team of molecular diagnosticians to analyze a bank of SIV viruses from case submissions from October 2008 to April 2009. The goal is to determine if the H1N1 flu virus is in the Iowa swine population. So far, screening of samples has not detected the Novel H1N1 virus in the domestic hog population.

“Each day we are learning more about this novel influenza virus,” Yoon says. “We are particularly learning about its genetic makeup. This virus was originally coined the name ‘swine flu’ as it contains viral components that have been previously identified in influenza viruses causing disease in pigs. However, this novel H1N1 virus has been reportedly spreading primarily from direct human-to-human contact, which is more similar to how emerging strains of ‘seasonal influenza’ are commonly transmitted. It is also important to understand that influenza virus is transmitted by direct exposure to respiratory secretions, and is not a foodborne illness or food safety concern.”

Diagnostic testing for the hybrid flu virus at the VDL is done by gene sequence analysis which takes up to seven days. ISU researchers are currently developing a high throughput polymerase chain reaction diagnostic test that will differentiate human, swine and avian viruses usually within 24 hours.

“We have an excellent team of applied veterinary diagnosticians and researchers working diligently to serve the emerging needs of our stakeholders helping safeguard both animal and human health,” says Rodger Main, DVM, director of ISU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Operations.