By now you have doubtless heard there is a new type of swine flu infecting people mostly in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. Children who have been exposed to swine barns at agricultural fairs have been hardest hit, and there have been 224 cases reported as of August 17th.
What hasn’t been made very clear in most of the media reports is that this new influenza variant, H3N2v, is a mixing of a seasonal H3N2 strain that has been circulating for a while and a gene from the 2009 pandemic N1N1 strain. Swine have been suffering from this new variant since last summer, and it is only now infecting humans who have contact with them in significant numbers. The mixing occurred when some poor pig happened to get both types of influenza, and they shared genes as they were reproducing themselves in his cells.
So far, people – mostly children and young adults – are only getting sick from swine, and very few cases have occurred from person-to-person spread. If that starts to happen, then there is a chance that we could see an epidemic of this type of flu. Until then, the recommendations to keep people from catching this swine flu, and for keeping swine from catching people flu, are as follows:
CDC Recommendations for People at High Risk:
• If you are at high risk of serious flu complications and are going to a fair where pigs will be present, avoid pigs and swine barns at the fair this year. This includes children younger than 5 years, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term health conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions).
CDC Recommendations for People Not at High Risk:
• Don’t eat, drink or put anything in your mouth in pig areas.
• Don’t take toys, pacifiers, cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar items into pig areas.
• Wash your hands often with soap and running water before and after exposure to pigs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Avoid close contact with pigs that look or act ill.
• Take protective measures if you must come in contact with pigs that are known or suspected to be sick. This includes wearing protective clothing, gloves, masks that cover your mouth and nose and other personal protective equipment.
• Watch your pig (if you have one) for signs of illness and call a veterinarian if you suspect it might be sick.
• Avoid contact with pigs if you have flu-like symptoms. Wait 7 days after your illness started or until you have been without fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, whichever is longer. If you must have contact with pigs while you are sick, take the protective actions listed above.
A seasonal flu vaccine will not protect against H3N2v, but influenza antiviral drugs that can treat H3N2v as well as seasonal flu illness in people. These are prescription drugs. Early treatment is better, so see your healthcare provider as soon as you get sick if you have been exposed to pigs and have flu-like symptoms. Tell your doctor about your exposure and whether you have a high risk factor.