Swine Flu and Pork-derived
Desiccated Thyroid Products:
Is there Reason for Concern?
Dr. John C. Lowe, Editor-in-Chief
April 27, 2009
In the last several days, we have been
deluged by emails at
drlowe.com. The authors of
the emails are concerned over a possible relationship between the virus
causing current cases of swine flu and pork-derived desiccated thyroid
products. In the U.S. and most other countries, those products are
Typical of the inquiries
I've received is this one by someone name Maryann: "I
heard on T.V. last night that people are dying from swine flu and that
the government is concerned about a pandemic. I take Armour Thyroid and
I know that it comes from pigs. I thought about changing to Nature-Throid
or Westhroid, but then I read online that they also come from pigs. Do
you think taking these products is risky because of the swine flu?"
I replied to the women's question as I have to scores of others. Here, I
expand on what I've written to them.
I regret that many hypothyroid patients are concerned about the swine
flu in relation to Nature-Throid, Westhroid, and Armour. Unfortunately,
the brevity of television news reports too often provokes unnecessary
concerns. I've seen several television reports about the recent cases of
swine flu, and I clearly see that the ten-second coverage could leave
many viewers wondering whether they should abstain from consuming any
However, I don't believe that abstaining from pork products is necessary
to avoid this version of swine flu. Nor do I believe that patients who
use porcine-derived desiccated thyroid products risk contracting swine
The New Virus and Swine Flu. We can
consider the flu that some people recently developed as a type of swine
flu. But we could also consider it a type of bird flu, and a type of
human flu. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that the virus,
dubbed "swine influenza A (H1N1)," is a hybrid: it contains genes found
in European and Asian swine viruses, but it also contains genes typical
of bird and human viruses.
The gene segments are a unique combination that researchers haven't
previously found in swine or human influenza viruses.
On April 24, 2009, the CDC published a report on two children in
California who developed flu from the virus. According to the CDC,
"Neither child had contact with pigs; the source of the infection is
unknown." The CDC also stated, "The lack of known exposure to pigs in
the two cases increases the possibility that human-to-human transmission
of this new influenza virus has occurred."
After the CDC reported the two California cases, several more U.S.
citizens developed flu from the virus. On April 24, 2009, the CDC
reported: "No recent exposure to pigs has been identified for any of the
seven patients. Close contacts of all patients are being investigated to
determine whether person-to-person spread has occurred."
This morning, I talked with Dai Jinn, Chief Science Officer of
RLC Labs, manufacturer of
Nature-Thyroid. Dai told me that he has been closely
monitoring information on the virus. "In my reading and discussion," he
said, "the very last concern I had regarding H1N1 is any transmission
within our food supply, which would include pork-based thyroid
medication. Although the origin hasn't been confirmed as to the recent
outbreak, we do know that this virus has been identified and the new
strain is an amalgam. It is a virus, and the way viruses commonly spread
is by airborne sources."
Nature-Throid and other pork-derived products, Dai was clear:
"I think it is very important to acknowledge the fact that no cases have
been reported from anyone having ingested any pork-based products in the
history of this virus."
Dai concluded with a statement that I believe is extremely important for
those concerned about pork-derived thyroid products. To me, his
statement is all the more important in that it comes from the preeminent
scientist in the field of desiccated thyroid formulation and
manufacturing: "Our current supply of porcine thyroid is from a
supplier that has no known cases (origin) of swine flu." He added, "I also don't believe that the virus can
survive the purification and desiccation process and be viable at the
end 'product' stage. I do have concerns about a pandemic, but not due to
the spread of the virus by oral consumption of pork-based food and
Exposure to Pigs. In an editorial note in its April 24 report, the
CDC wrote: "Before the cases described in this ongoing investigation,
recent cases of swine influenza in humans reported to the CDC occurred
in persons who either had exposure to pigs or to a family member with
exposure to pigs.";
When referring to "exposure to pigs," however, the CDC did not refer to
infected humans having consumed pork products. Instead, they referred to
people exposed to live pigs. For example, Karen Kaplan, a writer for the
Los Angeles Times, after interviewing a CDC virus scientist, wrote: "In
1988, a healthy 32-year-old women who visited a pig exhibit at a county
fair came down with pneumonia and died eight days later. Epidemiologists
tested the exhibitors and found that 76% of them had swine flu
antibodies, a sign that their immune systems had tangled with the virus,
according to the CDC."
The April 24, 2009 CDC report continued: "Transmission of swine
influenza viruses between persons with no pig exposure has been
described previously, but that transmission has been limited. The lack
of a known history of pig exposure for any of the patients in the
current cases indicates that they acquired infection through contact
with other infected persons."
For those taking
Nature-Throid or similar products, one point about the
virus and the flu it induces is worth emphasizing: researchers have not
reported finding this particular virus in pigs, and no pigs have been
reported to have influenza A (H1N1)-induced flu. If it turns out to
be true that this new virus doesn't infect pigs, then no one is likely
to ingest the virus in their pork-derived desiccated thyroid. But even
if some pigs become infected, it's important to bear in mind what
Labs' Chief Science Officer, Dai Jinn, told me: the virus wouldn't
survive the purification and desiccation process and be active in the
final thyroid hormone product. To me, it seems unlikely, then, that
hypothyroid patients should fear contracting the virus and developing
swine flu from Nature-Thyroid, Westhroid, or Armour Thyroid.
To minimize the chances of contracting the virus, the CDC has not
recommended that we cease to consume pork products. It has, however,
recommended washing our fingers and hands often, using alcohol-based
hand-cleaning solutions, and keeping our fingers away from our mouth,
nose, and eyes. And of particular importance, the CDC advises us to
avoid person-to-person transmission of the virus. They caution, for
example, to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing.
me, this makes flying in jetliners—which circulate the cabin air
over-and-over again as we fly—a far greater risk for contracting the new
virus than is ingesting pork-derived desiccated thyroid. Robert J. Boser,
denies that we
have an exceptional likelihood of contracting airborne microbes on
Somehow he doesn't understand the increased risk of contracting airborne
viruses when the same virus-laden air is brought to our mouths and noses
again-and-again, often for hours, during flights. I don't find his
anemic and defensive attempt to lull us into comfort reassuring. The
respiratory infections my friends, relatives, and I have gotten
immediately after riding these flying petri dishes proves to me that
Boser is wrong. If the airlines were seriously concerned about our
respiratory safety, they would at least hand us disposable facemasks as
we board their planes. But I digress . . .
RLC Labs is preparing a formal press release about this issue. We will
post the release at Thyroid Science as soon as we receive it. If you want
to talk with RLC Labs personnel about this issue, you can reach them at
their toll-free number: 1-877-797-7997.
1. Investigation and Interim Recommendations: Swine
Influenza (H1N1). CDC Health Advisory. April 25, 2009,
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Swine Influenza A
(H1N1) infection in two children—Southern California, March-April 2009.
MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep., 58(15):400-402, 2009.
4. CDC: Update: Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Infections—California and
Texas, April 2009. April 24, 2009,
5. Kaplan, K.: Swine flu's next move impossible to predict scientists
have yet to figure out how this strain of the influenza virus spreads,
or what makes it lethal. It could continue spreading or fizzle out, they
say. Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2009.
6. Boser, R.J.: Why Do
Airlines Use "Recirculated" Air? Will it make me sick?
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