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Avoiding Swine Flu at the County Fair

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Swine at the county fairCounty and state fairs are popular late-summer events in many regions of America. In addition to cash for the carnival rides, funnel cakes and “food on a stick”, this year’s fair-goers should equip themselves with an awareness of a new flu strain that is being spread by pigs to people—a variant of H3N2 called H3N2v. Similar to the H1N1 2009 pandemic swine flu strain, H3N2v is a variety of influenza type A. Even healthy looking pigs may carry the flu virus, according to a report on a new study by University of Minnesota veterinarian Dr. Jeff Bender. A healthy dose of precaution is in order for fair-goers visiting pig sties.

Human cases of the H3N2v virus surged recently from 29 to 145 cases during the week of August 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Friday, August 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 153 cases. Two people were hospitalized; there have been no deaths from this virus. According to Medscape, the 2012-2013 vaccine is not expected to provide substantial immunity to the virus, but a vaccine specific for H3N2v could be produced if needed.

In a recent CDC telephone conference reported in Family Practice News, medical epidemiologist, Dr. Joseph Bresse characterized the severity of the human illness associated with the virus as resembling that of seasonal flu, with most cases mild, self-limited and resolving on their own. Most people who have had the flu have had contact or exposure to pigs prior to the illness, and many cases are associated with county and state agricultural fairs where pigs were being shown.

Dr. Bresse stated there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, though this can change, and the outbreak does not represent a pandemic situation. CDC is concerned about the H3N2v virus, however, because it contains an element seen in the H1N1 virus that may make it more likely to spread from person to person. CNN reported the Indiana state health commissioner found the overwhelming percentage of cases in that state were based on transmission from ill or infected swine to their handlers, which in most cases are children. Other cases occurred in farmers or veterinarians.

CDC Recommendations for Avoiding H3N2

  • Children younger than age five, persons aged 65 or older, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women should avoid contact with pigs this summer.
  • Avoid contact with animals that appear ill.
  • Wash hands with soap and running water after contact with pigs.
  • Don’t bring food, drink or baby items (pacifier, stroller, etc.) into areas with pigs.
  • Wear gloves, face masks and other protective clothing when handling pigs.

So enjoy the fair, but stay aware!

For more information on safe exposure to farm animals please see:
http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/spotlight_an_exhbts.htm

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

2010-2011 Flu Season: Getting Ready

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

InFLUenza is a contagious, respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can be mild, but in its severe form can lead to death. Older adults, young children and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.

Last year (the 2009-2010 flu season), a new and very different flu virus called 2009 H1N1 spread worldwide causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. During this flu season, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expect the H1N1 virus to cause illness again. However, unlike the vaccine available last year, the 2010-2011 flu vaccine specifically protects against the H1N1 virus and two additional influenza viruses.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to expand influenza vaccination recommendations for the 2010-2011 flu season to include all persons 6 months of age and older who do not have a contraindication to the vaccine. The recommendations are intended to remove barriers to flu immunization, such as the need to determine whether each person has a specific indication for vaccination and protect as many people as possible against the dangers of the flu.

The CDC recommends taking the following three steps to protect yourself and others from the seasonal flu:

1. Take time to get a flu vaccine.

  • The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.
  • The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against the influenza A H3N2 virus, the influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.
  • Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu as soon as the 2010-2011 season vaccine is available.

2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Disinfect frequently touched household surfaces with a solution of ¼ cup chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.

3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

There were 12,000 deaths from influenza last year. Many of those could have been prevented by receiving a flu shot. Getting a flu shot not only protects individuals it protects entire communities. The more people who are immunized the fewer cases of flu and the less likely it is for the disease to spread throughout the community. Taking the precautions described above will reduce the risk of spreading the flu and is much less costly than the medical and personal costs associated with an extended illness.

(Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)