Be Aware at the State Fair!
My family always looks forward to going to the State Fair, and we especially enjoy seeing all the animals there. And while we are always conscious of making sure we wash our hands after visiting the barns, this year we are going to be especially careful about it. A new strain of influenza type A, the H3N2 virus, has been detected. It is being transmitted to humans from ill or infected swine (pigs). As of August 9, there have been 120 cases reported in Indiana, 30 in Ohio, one in Illinois, and one in Hawaii, according to the CDC. Two people have been hospitalized; both have been released.
Dr. Joseph Bresee of the CDC, says “This time of the year is the time when you have fairs around the country…thousands of them. That accounts for the increased transmission of this flu more than anything else.” As the investigation continues, we are seeing transmission from the ill or infected swine, or hogs, to their handlers, which in most of these cases are young people. The biggest population to come down with this type of flu are those who are age 16 years and younger.
This influenza is not a foodborne illness. It spreads like any other type of influenza, by droplet infection when someone sneezes or coughs, spreading the virus to other mammals (humans included) and onto surfaces.
According to the CDC, H3N2 flu viruses are common among pigs. They are a subgroup of influenza A viruses that are known to adapt in humans. This new version of the H3N2 virus is different in that it has picked up a gene from the novel H1N1 flu virus (that became pandemic in 2009). This can happen when a person or an animal is exposed to two different viruses at the same time. In this case the H3N2 viruses were present in a mammal at the same time and the “matrix-gene” (or m-gene) from the H1N1 pandemic virus was picked up by the H3N2 swine flu, creating a new or variant version of H3N2. The presence of the m-gene can make the virus more easily transmissible to humans.
The regular seasonal flu vaccine for 2012 does not contain this H3N2 strain, so it cannot prevent you from getting sick if you come into contact with the new flu strain. You should still get your yearly flu shot this fall, however, because the vaccine does contain other strains of influenza A and the more serious influenza B. According to the CDC, preliminary steps are being taken to develop an H3N2 vaccine in order to have the vaccine be quickly available should a pandemic occur as with the H1N1 in 2009.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
–Wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching pigs.
–Don’t drink or eat near pigs, and don’t take food into animal areas.
–Avoiding contact with animals such as pigs may be the best protection if you are among those likely to suffer severe symptoms if you get the flu: people with lung disease or diabetes, for instance.
Cover your coughs, and see your doctor if you develop flu symptoms: dry cough, fever, and body aches. Stay home if you are sick!
Blessings to you,