ROCH Austin native in Mexico sees signs of concern everywhere
By Karen Colbenson
Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
A swine flu outbreak has killed people in Mexico and sickened others across the globe, but it’s unclear how or if it’s affecting business at major U.S. pork producer Hormel Foods Corp.
The U.S. government declared a public health emergency Sunday, and 50 cases of swine flu have been discovered so far in California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas. No known cases have been reported in Minnesota.
Many nations are increasing their screening of pigs and pork imports from the Americas or are banning them outright as the virus is reported to have killed as many as 149 people and likely sickened more than 1,400 since April 13 in Mexico. Mexican officials said they had traced the origins of the outbreak to a rural area known as La Gloria in the southeastern state of Veracruz, the site of several major pig farms.
Although Austin-based Hormel did not respond to messages requesting comment, the National Pork Board is encouraging U.S. pork producers, which export nearly $5 billion worth of products each year, to take precautions to ensure the good health of the animals and their caregivers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a statement that eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe, since the virus dies when cooked at temperatures of 160 degrees or higher.
An Austin native, Bronson Pettitt, 23, who lives and works in Mexico City, said signs of the virus are everywhere.
Normally busy streets have fallen silent, businesses are closing early and all the schools in Mexico’s capital closed for 10 days to reduce people’s potential exposure to the virus. Pettitt said people aren’t going out in public as often, and when they do, many wear masks.
Pettitt also said the city has been canceling public events and closing museums and libraries to control the outbreak.
"It seems like it’s affecting a lot of businesses," said Pettitt. "People in the city are scared."
Swine influenza is a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza viruses that cause regular outbreaks in pigs. Although people do not normally get swine flu, when human infections happen, it spreads from person-to-person. Much like the regular flu, symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.
Pettitt said he’ll take precautionary measures, such as wearing a mask and limiting his time in public, but he believes that’s about all he can do to keep from getting infected.
"If I get it, there’s nothing I can really do about it," he said. "I guess I’d be worried if it got any worse, but you can’t do a whole lot about it."
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