State Health Officials Report Increase in Influenza Cases Linked to State, County Fair Attendance
MADISON-Confirmed Wisconsin cases of the variant H3N2 influenza virus infection, H3N2v, has risen to 14, according to state health officials. All cases occurred in individuals who were exposed to or in proximity to pigs at either the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, or county fairs in Kenosha, Dodge and Manitowoc counties. The majority of cases are children, with an average age of 10-years-old. All affected individuals recovered or are currently recovering from their illnesses. One child was hospitalized briefly.
Due to the strong correlation between these cases and exposure to swine exhibits, health officials urge caution for people attending county fairs. "While this strain of influenza appears to cause an illness similar to seasonal strains, keep in mind that any influenza can cause very severe illness in certain people," said Dr. Henry Anderson, State Health Officer. "Because H3N2v infections have been associated with four Wisconsin fairs already, we are recommending that older adults, pregnant women, young children, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions should avoid entering swine barns at fairs this season." Anderson noted that the fair season is ongoing in Wisconsin until mid-September.
Symptoms of H3N2v include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people also have reported runny nose, sore throat, eye irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most cases have resolved without treatment. Contact your health care provider if you are experiencing flu symptoms and let them know if you have had direct contact with or been in close proximity to swine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 276 cases of human infections with H3N2v influenza since July, with 10 states now affected. While nearly all of the human infections occurred in individuals directly or indirectly exposed to pigs, mostly in agricultural fair settings, the CDC is also reporting three instances of likely human-to-human spread of the virus during the current outbreak. However, there is currently no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission within communities. Also, influenza has not been shown to be transmitted by eating properly handled and prepared pork or other products derived from pigs.
When an influenza virus that normally circulates in swine is detected in a person, it is called a variant influenza virus. Influenza viruses such as H3N2 and its variants are not unusual in swine and can be directly transmitted from swine to people and from people to swine. When humans are in close proximity to live infected swine, such as in barns and livestock exhibits at fairs, movement of these viruses can occur back and forth between humans and animals. Even pigs that appear healthy can harbor and transmit the influenza virus.
The Wisconsin Division of Public Health and the CDC recommend these precautions to avoid infection:
- 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.
- Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth in areas where there are pigs, and don't take food or drink into these areas.
- Never take toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar items into areas where there are pigs.
- Avoid close contact with pigs that look or act ill.
- Children younger than 5 years, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions) are at high risk from serious complications if they get influenza. These people should consider avoiding exposure to pigs and swine barns this fair season, especially if sick pigs have been identified.
For more information on the H3N2v influenza virus: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/communicable/Influenza/InfluenzaAH3N2.htm.
For more information about the H3N2v influenza virus and current investigation: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/h3n2v-basics.htm.