CDC said all 18 patients reported some exposure to pigs at state fairs before falling ill. At least 13 people said they’d directly handled a pig, four reported visiting a swine barn, and one patient claimed indirect contact without specifying details.
All 18 patients — seven of whom were younger than 5-years-old — fully recovered, although two people required hospitalization to treat their symptoms.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by the type A influenza virus that causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. The illness does not typically affect humans; however, in rare cases, outbreaks of human infection have occurred. When a flu virus that is normally found in pigs occurs in humans, it is referred to as a variant virus.
CDC found two H3N2 variant viruses in samples gathered from the 18 people sickened in the recent outbreak. Sixteen were classified as “reassortant,” meaning they include a mix of gene segments from both human viruses and swine viruses.
Researchers expressed concern with the reassortment samples, as genes from a human origin may make the virus resistant to antiviral medications and more likely to be transferred from person-to-person. However, there was no evidence of swine flu being transmitted between humans in the recent outbreak.
“This has occurred ever since man, fowl and swine closely interacted with each other,” said Dr. Greg Poland, director of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic. “In the past, this would have never been detected. No one would have understood that it had happened, and life would go on.”
However, despite the growing awareness that animals can transmit influenza and other viruses to humans, Poland feels that most people are still relatively uninformed of the risks and fail to take necessary precautions.
“Recognize that these animals carry influenza viruses — they’re the source of them — and so appropriate hand hygiene is important,” Poland said. “Kids need to have their hands washed well.”
Additional steps to avoid infections include:
- After petting an animal, do not eat until you’ve washed your hands or used hand sanitizer.
- Avoid putting your hands on your face or in your mouth while at the fair.
- Don’t eat or drink while in barn areas.
- People at high risk for infection — the elderly, pregnant women and people undergoing chemotherapy — should avoid entering swine barns.
- If your child becomes sick after the fair and does not get better, seek immediate medical attention.
- Make sure all family members who are 6-months-old or older get annual flu shots.