There is a novel strain of swine flu of the H3N2 type with a lot of infections in humans over a short period of time but over a large geographic area.
The CDC reports 12 cases this week, 1 in Hawaii, 10 in Ohio, and one in Indiana. Seventeen more cases were reported since about one year ago. Most of the cases are found in individuals who had direct contact with swine, but some cases appear to be person to person transmission.
A large number of the recent cases seem to have been in individuals who had contact with swine at a fair. This is fair season across much of the US, and apparently petting the pigs is a cool thing for people, mainly kids, to do.
No one has died of this flu, and few seem to have become gravely ill. Three people with high risk factors were hospitalized in all.
The take-home message, the message the CDC is trying to get out, is to wash hour hands very carefully after you pet the pig. But health authorities are also saying to not eat or drink in the presence of swine at these state fairs. Personally, I plan to stay away from the pigs entirely. That will be hard to do because one of our favorite things to do at the State Fair is to visit the Big Pig. They have one really big pig at the fair every year. It is the pig that won the prize for being really really big. Nobody pets it, though. But a lot of people stand around looking at it while they eat their Food on a Stick. This year, I may glance at the pig from a distance, but I will not be eating my corn dog at that particular time.
You can’t get this flu from eating a swine who is infected. So, I can eat the corn dog, just not while petting an influenza infected swine.
Normally, even though swine do get the flu pretty routinely, it does not transmit to humans. While it is possible that there is just a lot more swine flu among the swine and we are seeing unlikely events happening, it is thought that this flu is a variant that is more transmittable to humans than is usual. In prior years, an average of about one person per year in the US gets swine flu from swine. Over the last few years, this number has gone up and the present situation is seemingly unprecedented. However, there have also been significant changes in surveillance and reporting which almost certainly account for some of this apparent increase. The CDC is not sure if there is a real increase in swine flu occurrence, transmission, or mainly reporting. They say:
The increased detection and reporting of these cases could be occurring for a number of reasons, including one or more of the following factors: First, pandemic preparedness efforts have improved state level surveillance and laboratory capacity to detect novel viruses in the United States. Second, in 2007, novel influenza virus infections were made domestically and internationally reportable. And three, it’s also possible that there is a true increase in the number of these cases, possibly occurring from exposure to infected swine or through subsequent, limited human-to-human transmission.
Just don’t pet the pig.