New Swine Flu Strain Bumps Infection Up To 145 People
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A day after Indiana state health officials shut down a pig barn at a state fair due to dozens of swine flu cases surfacing, reportedly stemming from visits to area fairs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement saying a new strain of the flu has infected at least 145 people since July 12 — a significant jump from just 12 confirmed cases last week.
CDC’s Dr. Joseph Bresee said earlier that, “we’re seeing a big increase, and we think it’s a real increase.”
So far, most of the cases have been mild; two have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported. Still, the CDC is advising people to take precautions when attending fairs. It is important for people to wash their hands before and after they are near swine and to not eat or drink while in close proximity to pigs.
As of today (August 10), human cases of H3N2v (the new strain of swine flu) have been confirmed in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Hawaii. Most of the cases have so far been localized in Indiana and Ohio.
H3N2v resembles a typical seasonal flu and most healthy people should recover in a few days without medical attention. But in rare cases, treatment with antiviral medication may be needed.
The CDC said that the cases this year have occurred after exposure to infected pigs. When a sick pig coughs or sneezes, virus-infested droplets enter the airway where they make their way onto surfaces and eventually onto people. People can also catch the virus by touching an infected pig and then touching their face.
The bulk of the cases have come from agricultural fairs, which are common this time of year. These pig enclosures offer up the prime conditions for the virus to spread, Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, told Los Angeles Times.
“You bring together these fair pigs. I’d assume a lot are not vaccinated…. You get this burst where the virus transmits rapidly among pigs,” he said. “At the same time, you’re getting more people walking through the barns than you would in a commercial farm.”
Most of the cases this year have also been children. Mainly because children are the ones bringing the pigs to the fairs and caring for them, said Bresee. Also, about 30 percent of US adults seem to have antibodies that protect them against H3N2v, he added.
That’s probably because another H3N2 virus circulated in humans in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The virus returned to pigs at a later time, where it traded genetic material with other flu viruses and a new version of the virus was born: H3N2v.
The CDC is closely monitoring the spread of the new strain and expects more cases will break out in the coming weeks, including cases of human-to-human transmission, said Bresee.
While the H3N2v virus is similar to seasonal flu, vaccines for this year’s seasonal flu will not protect against the virus. H3N2v is more related to the H1N1 swine flu strain.
Bresee is stressing that everyone should still get a flu shot this year, noting that between 5 and 15% of the US population will get sick with seasonal flu, and as many as 50,000 may die from it.
Bresee said if you are planning to attend a fair in the coming weeks, or months, the best bet is to carry hand sanitizer with you and wash your hands after contact with swine. Also avoid eating inside animal pens and stay away from pigs that are sneezing or coughing.
People at high risk of complications from flu, including the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, might want to avoid contact with fair pigs altogether, the CDC recommended.