New flu cases jump, but ‘not pandemic situation'

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New flu cases jump, but ‘not pandemic situation'

FAQs on H3N2v

Question: What is H3N2v?

Answer: It’s a new flu strain that’s begun circulating in Ohio, Indiana and other states around the U.S. So far this summer, it’s only spreading between infected pigs and people, which makes it a concern during county fair season.

Q: How serious is it?

A: So far, symptoms have been similar to a mild seasonal flu, with fever, cough, sore throat and body aches. Only one person has been hospitalized in Ohio, and that was for precautionary reasons, according to state health officials.

Q: Why shouldn’t I call it swine flu?

A: Because, though pigs are involved, the virus is actually a mixture of viruses that originated in different species. It can infect pigs and people, so calling it swine flu is inaccurate.

Q: How is it different from seasonal flu?

A: For now at least, it’s not spreading from person-to-person, the way seasonal flu does. That may change, since flu viruses can mutate easily. In terms of symptoms, H3N2v is similar to a mild seasonal flu.

Q: What’s being done to prevent this new virus from spreading?

A: Farmers and veterinarians are focusing on swine populations. At county fairs this year, veterinarians are routinely checking livestock exhibits for signs of sick pigs. And every year, vets randomly test pigs for signs of flu and other infections. Sick pigs are pulled out of exhibits, swabbed for testing purposes and quarantined. People who work with swine are being reminded to wash their hands frequently and report flu-like illnesses to their doctors. Fair-goers are urged to wash their hands after visiting the livestock barns and not to eat or drink in the barns because even if they don’t actually touch the animals, the virus could land on their food and be ingested if a sick animal coughs or sneezes.

Q: Can I get H3N2v from eating pork products?

A: No. The virus is not spread through pork meat.

Protecting yourself against the flu

With county fairs running into the first week of October in Ohio, ODA and ODH remind residents and visitors that fair attendance is safe. Those attending the fair should remember:

• Wash your hands frequently with soap and running water before and after exposure to animals.

• Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth in animal areas, and don’t take food or drink into animal areas.

• Young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems should be extra careful around animals.

• If you have animals – including swine – watch them for signs of illness and call a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick.

• Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill, when possible.

• Avoid contact with swine if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Cases of a new flu strain contracted from swine increased sharply this week around the nation, federal health officials said Thursday, but cautionted that it is not a pandemic.

Nationally, there were 152 cases of H3N2v flu as of Thursday, compared to the 16 tallied as of Aug. 3, said Dr. Joseph Bresee, a medical epidemiologist in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division.

“CDC understand people are concerned as to the rapid jump in cases,” he said during a press briefing Thursday. “At this point, there’ s no sign of sustained, human-to-human transmission.”

“This is not a pandemic situation,” he added.

However, Bresee did say “we wouldn’t be surprised if over the next few weeks, we do see some of those cases” of human-to-human transmission.

Part of the reason for the jump is that the CDC is allowing state health departments to confirm their own cases, rather than waiting for the results from the Atlanta-based agency, Bresee said, a change that speeds up reporting.

The other reason for the jump is that state and county agricultural fairs are in full swing around the country. That means more people — especially children, who are most likely to catch the new flu strain — are in contact with more infected swine, Bresee said.

“I think it’s mostly the fairs,” he said. “This time of year is the time you have the state and county fairs, and in that setting, there’s lots of close exposure between humans and pigs.”

Flu viruses mutate rapidly. Most flu viruses originate in a particular species — birds, pigs, humans and dogs all have their own strains — and those viruses only infect those species. H3N2v has evolved so that it can spread from pigs to people, and when the virus first appeared last year, there were “a few” cases in which it apparently spread from person to person. That has not been the case this year.

Indiana led the tally with 120 cases Thursday; Ohio had 30 cases, included 15 in Butler County, three in Clark County and four in Greene County. Illinois and Hawaii have each recorded one case.

Health officials expect to see the numbers keep climbing. But so far, only two people infected with the new strain have been hospitalized since June 12, Bresee, and there have been no fatalities.

H3N2v will not be a component in the seasonal flu vaccine offered this year. A CDC spokesman said a seed virus for a vaccine against it has been cultured and clinical trials are planned, but mass production won’t begin unless widespread human-to-human spread of the virus is detected.

In Ohio, state health and agriculture officials are aggressively monitoring people and pigs for signs of flu.

And so far, no one at the state level is suggesting that counties cancel swine exhibits at their annual fairs, though the Cuyahoga County Fair did cancel theirs.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is working with officials at fairs around the state to increase education and information on how to reduce the risk of infection, said spokeswoman Erica Pitchford. That includes reminding exhibitors to wash their hands before and after handling pigs, to quarantine animals that show signs of illness and not to eat or drink in the livestock barns.

“They need to be cautious. They need to be extra vigilant this year,” she said.

Veterinarians are monitoring livestock exhibits, and any pig with a temperature above 105 — “that’s high for a pig,” Pitchford said — is being pulled out of the exhibit and sent home. H3N2v has been pretty mild in people so far, and it’s pretty mild in pigs, too. Sick swine are quarantined and treated, and the symptoms usually pass within a week or so.

Health officials are asking fair-goers to be extra cautious as well, said Dr. Mary DiOrio, state epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health.

People most at risk are those who have direct contact with swine. Pregnant women, young children, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk for complications if they contract any flu, including H3N2v, DiOrio said.

And while pigs are the genesis of the outbreak, it’ s inaccurate to refer to H3N2v as swine flu, DiOrio said, because the virus can infect humans and contains elements of more than just a swine flu virus.

More than 90 percent of the H3N2v cases nationally have been in children, Bresee said. Part of that is because children and teens are most likely to be handling pigs during county and state fairs. Part of that is because their immune systems aren’t as robust as adults’.

It’s likely some adults have been exposed to flu strains that are similar to H3N2v, he said, and they may have some protection against it if exposed, Bresee said.

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