November 14th, 2002

Researchers think there is a connection between human and swine strains of Influenza A. Great River Medical Center nurse Karla Todd, R.N., is helping them prove their point by coordinating a study for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is the nation’s lead agency for protecting people’s health and safety through research and health promotion.

Humans, pigs and birds are very similar when it comes to Influenza A. Although the strain is specific to each species, scientists believe that the disease may be transmitted between the species. Pigs may play an important role in the spread of Influenza A because they are susceptible to each type. If they become infected with viruses from more than one species, pigs can serve as a “mixing vessel” to develop and transmit an altered strain of Influenza A.

The primary goals of the study are to estimate the rate of transmission of the Influenza A virus from pigs to humans and identify potential risk factors. It is funded through a grant from the National Vaccine Program Office at the Department of Health and Human Services. Todd learned about the study through an Internet link to the University of Iowa, where she recently completed coursework for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. She inquired about being a field worker, but took the coordinator position instead.

The study is being conducted among employees at Heartland Pork Enterprises facilities in northeast and southern Iowa. It involves providing blood samples when the study began in September and when it ends next spring, and promptly reporting flu symptoms. A field worker takes nasal and mouth swabs within 24 hours of the report.

In the spring, the blood samples will be compared to identify infections of a new Influenza A strain that may have developed during the study.

Todd will maintain a database until spring, when researchers will evaluate the data. Depending on the results, the study could be extended for another year.