PIG FARMERS are being urged to check that they, their families and their staff have up-to-date flu vaccinations, as a matter of urgency, or risk 'devastating consequences' to their herds.

This follows a World Health Organisation warning that another flu pandemic is inevitable – it 'is a matter of when, not if'.

“Although it is spring, the threat of flu is ever-present," said Geoff Hooper of Hysolv Animal Health. "In the past couple of weeks, we have had reports of two cases involving units with 2000-3000 sows, where flu strains are being investigated.

“Vets have told me that they see flu in pigs when the pigmen or women are suffering from the disease. The pig is regarded as a potential ‘mixing pot’ and the flu virus can at times spread from man to pig and vice-versa.”

Surveys have shown that the pandemic H1N1 strain of swine flu is particularly prevalent in the UK and Ireland, compared with other European countries.

The symptoms include fever, coughing, breathlessness, apathy as well as abortions and returns to oestrus and can be particularly severe when occurring at the same time as Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome. Economic losses can be considerable, and there is no effective therapy once the virus is circulating in the herd.

“The message is quite simple, if you keep pigs you need a flu jab,” said Mr Hooper.