Clark County girl tests positive for ‘swine flu’

Person reportedly contracted it after visiting Ohio State Fair, but officials say handwashing is a way to stop spread.

An area resident who recently showed animals at the Ohio State Fair has tested positive for swine flu, becoming the first confirmed case of the H3N2 influenza virus in Clark County.

The young girl, whose name and age were not released, was exposed to the virus after having direct contact with two hogs that were sent home from the fair in Columbus last week after tests revealed they had swine flu.

Nationwide, more than 30 people have tested positive for the new “swine flu” strain in eight states, including Ohio, since July 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ohio currently has 15 confirmed cases, including 14 cases in Butler County that were associated with those who had direct contact with swine at their recent county fair.

Clark County Combined Health District Commissioner Charlie Patterson said the local individual was tested for the virus after exhibiting symptoms but was not hospitalized.

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“This person’s family is being watched, and if they have any symptoms they will be tested,” Patterson said.

Those sickened with the virus have ranged in age from 3 to 36, but none has resulted in hospitalization, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The H3N2 virus contains a gene from the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, which sickened millions worldwide, according to the CDC.

CDC Influenza Division Deputy Director Dr. Dan Jernigan said the detection of the virus at a few fairs last year and its re-emergence this year makes the disease one to watch closely.

“There may be something different about the H3N2 virus in its ability to be more easily transmitted to people that warrants closer monitoring,” Jernigan said in a CDC report late last month.

CDC officials speculated in the report that the acquisition of the gene from the pandemic H1Na virus may make the H3N2 viruses more transmissible.

Ohio Department of Health officials say its too early to tell if the new flu strain will impact as many people as H1N1 and added that all of those infected with the new virus in Ohio have had direct contact with swine.

“The symptoms are fairly mild and are no more severe than what you would see in regular flu,” said Tessie Pollock, a spokeswoman for the ODH. “Increased vigilance is encourage … but there is no reason for alarm.”

Champaign County currently has no reported cases of the virus, although local officials are monitoring the situation, said Shelia Hiddleson, commissioner of the Champaign Health District.

To help prevent potential cases, Hiddleson said hand sanitizer was placed at the entrances to all swine barns at the Champaign County fairgrounds, along with signs urging visitors to wash their hands frequently.

A veterinarian serving the fair board is also monitoring the situation closely, but so far everything appears to be normal.

Local physicians have been notified to look out for signs of influenza-like symptoms, and any suspicious cases will be sent to the Ohio Department of Health for testing.

Symptoms of the virus: fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and muscle aches.

Area residents attending fairs are advised to take the following precautions:

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

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

Those most at risk of contracting the disease are young children younger than five, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems and are urged to avoid the barns.

Residents are also urged not to eat and drink around the animals, and to notify fair officials if one of the animals appears to be ill.

“Our main message is good hand washing, good hand washing, good hand washing,” Hiddleson said.

Patterson said officials are investigating other potential cases and have asked physicians to help in the surveillance of the disease.

“We don’t believe this is the start of contagion, but we want to cross all of our Ts and dot our Is,” Patterson said.

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