From the Editor

Look after both the people and the pigs

Cate DeweyLast January, during the Banff Pork Seminar, I had breakfast with the farrowing-room manager from a farm in Ontario. She was concerned about the safety of her teenage daughter who had begun working on the farm on the weekends. She specifically wanted to know what health concerns she should be aware of for her daughter. This woman had worked in the barn for many, many years and had suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome due to processing nursing pigs. However, it was not until her daughter came into the barn that she really thought seriously about potential health threats.

Is it your job as the swine herd health veterinarian to educate swine-barn personnel about potential health threats of working in a barn? You may believe that as long as you look after the health of the pigs, then you have done your job. But I would argue that you are an educated health professional who has information far beyond that of the high school student or farrowing-room manager. If you do not discuss potential human health concerns, who will? I do admit that it was not something that I often thought about discussing when I visited a herd. However, my breakfast conversation drove home a message to me. I do have information that is useful. Perhaps I can help to prevent long-term health problems. Perhaps something I say or do will enable a person to stay healthy while working in a barn. These people are then more likely to stay in the swine industry.

The last issue of the Journal of Swine Health and Production highlighted respiratory problems due to dust in the barns and Salmonella as a cause of diarrhea in a farm family. If you have not read the issue, pull it out and give it a quick read. It will likely help you to provide advice to the people working on the farms you visit.

What would you have told the mother of the teenager girl working in the barn? I told her my biggest concern was for her daughter's respiratory health and, frankly, for her own respiratory health. We talked about pig-barn dust and what chronic exposure to the dust does to lungs. Then we discussed the daughter's responsibilities on the farm and the likelihood that she would be injecting sows with hormones. Finally, we discussed hygiene issues such as washing hands to reduce pig-to-people transmission of diseases causing gastrointestinal illness.

My semester began on September 6th with a lecture series to third-year students. One student wanted to know whether Ontario producers were at risk of dying from Streptococcus suis as has happened in China. I think it represents a small risk. A Chinese veterinarian told me those who are dying of Strep suis are poor people who eat meat from the ill pigs. This week I took fourth-year students on a farm visit for the day. Although I offered everyone a mask, I was the only person who wore one. It is definitely not macho to wear a mask and it makes talking difficult and becomes uncomfortably hot. However, by wearing a mask, I am reducing my health risks and sending a message to the students and to the producers.

Would you let your teenage daughter work in a pig barn? If I had a daughter, I would - but I would insist she wear a mask.

-- Cate Dewey