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USDA starts surveillance of pigs for flu

* US to launch surveillance project for swine flu viruses

* Will look for new H1N1 and other flu strains in pigs

* US has not found new H1N1 flu in pigs to date

* Surveillance to help update diagnostic tests, vaccines (Adds information from interview, background)

By Roberta Rampton

Article from Reuters

WASHINGTON, June 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department will soon launch a pilot surveillance project to look for new strains of flu virus in pigs, including the new strain of H1N1 flu, Chief Veterinarian John Clifford said on Tuesday.

The program will examine samples from sick pigs voluntarily submitted to government and private labs, as well as any herds where a barn worker has been identified with the H1N1 flu, Clifford told Reuters.

"It's trying to be more proactive because these flu viruses can mutate or recombinate," Clifford said.

The new H1N1 virus has made more than 11,000 people in 42 countries sick, killed 86, and raised fears it could be a pandemic.

Scientists believe the virus, which contains a mixture of genes from human, pig and bird flu strains, was circulating undetected for years, most likely in pigs. [ID:nN22387017]

The USDA has not yet found the new strain of virus in U.S. pigs, Clifford said, noting government and private laboratories have searched their samples to see if any match.

The USDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began developing the program a year ago, Clifford said, well before the human outbreak of the new H1N1 virus.

The new project, which includes research on the viruses, will rely on funding of $1.5 million from the CDC, Clifford said. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Jim Marshall)

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