The number of swine flu cases is up this summer, according to an updated government report. The flu is a variant of the swine flu (H3N2) usually found only in pigs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 153 new cases between July 12 and August 9. All occurred in 4 states in children younger than 18. And just about everybody infected had direct contact with pigs or reported being at an agricultural fair where pigs were present. The infections have been mild, with only 2 people needing hospital care. Both were treated and released. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published the report. The New York Times wrote about it Aug. 10.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Biking, hiking, swimming and trips to the beach are great ways to fill hot summer days. For many families, summer also brings fun events like local carnivals and state agricultural fairs.
A flu virus that usually is found only in pigs has turned up in more people. This virus is called a variant virus (H3N2v). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has known about and been monitoring this swine flu virus, which normally does not infect humans.
One hundred fifty-three (153) more cases of H3N2v have been found in 4 states between mid-July and August 9. It seems to occur most often in people who have been around pigs with H3N2v. This prompted the CDC to publish an update on all of the recent cases reported in the United States.
Cases were found in:
- Indiana (120 cases)
- Ohio (31 cases)
- Hawaii (1 case)
- Illinois (1 case)
Just about every one of the infected people had direct contact with pigs or reported being at a fair where pigs were present. These fairs are a common place for people (especially children) to be exposed to pigs.
Most cases of H3N2v (93%) were identified in children younger than 18 years, with a median age of 7 years old. Anyone of any age can be infected, though.
The good news is that almost all of the cases have been mild. Two hospitalizations have been confirmed, but no deaths reported. Both patients hospitalized with H3N2v infection have since recovered and been discharged.
The CDC is monitoring the situation very closely. There has been very limited human-to-human spread of H3N2v. Children appear to be less likely to have protective antibodies in their blood than adults.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Everyone should avoid being exposed to this H3N2v influenza virus. This year, take extra precautions to ensure your familys agricultural fair experience is a safe and healthy one.
Good ways to prevent the spread of flu viruses between pigs and people:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after exposure to animals.
- Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth in animal areas.
- If you have animals (especially pigs), watch them for signs of illness. Call a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick.
- Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill.
- Avoid contact with pigs, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
People at high risk of serious complications from influenza should consider avoiding exposure to pigs and swine barns this summer. This is especially true if any sick pigs have been identified. People considered high risk include:
- Children younger than 5 years old
- People 65 years and older
- Pregnant women
- Anyone with certain chronic medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions)
Good ways to prevent the spread of flu viruses from person to person:
- Encourage your entire family to wash their hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Teach your children to cover their mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing.
- Throw all tissues used for runny noses and sneezes in the trash right away.
- Wash dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water or the dishwasher.
- Teach your children to try and not touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
- Wash toys, doorknobs, counter tops and toilet knobs (anything that is frequently touched by your children) with hot, soapy water or a cleaner that kills germs.
- Do not let children share pacifiers, cups, spoons, forks, washcloths or towels without washing. Toothbrushes should never be shared!
H3N2v has not been shown to be spread to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs.
It is still very important that your children (and you!) receive the seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as it is available in your community. Immunization with seasonal influenza vaccine does not provide protection against infection with H3N2v virus, though.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
The CDC will continue to closely monitor all cases of H3N2v influenza in the United States. The CDC will also keep educating the public as more is learned about the way this virus spreads.
Researchers will continue to study ways to best protect against this virus. There currently is no specific H3N2v vaccine available.