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Tue, Aug 21st, 2012
Posted in All Health & Wellness

Minnesota has recorded its first confirmed case and a second probable case of a new influenza strain that people acquire through contact with pigs.

The two cases were reported in a pre-school-age child and an older sibling from a family living in the Twin Cities metro area. Both children developed symptoms of the illness two days after the family visited a live animal market in Dakota County on Aug. 10. Neither child required hospitalization, and both are recovering.

Both children were tested for the virus that causes the new flu strain, but only the younger child tested positive. However, the older child is considered a "probable" case, based on the child's history of flu-like illness and the family connection to the younger child. Officials at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) believe both children were most likely exposed to the new flu strain from pigs while they were at the animal market.

People usually get the new strain of flu - known as variant H3N2 (H3N2v) - from pigs rather than other people. A few cases have been reported where an individual got the illness from another person, but there was no further spread of the illness to additional people.

In addition to the Minnesota case, over 200 cases of the illness have been reported in eight states since the beginning of the year. Most have occurred in children who were exhibiting pigs at state or county fairs, or people who visited swine exhibits at fairs.

MDH officials emphasized that H3N2v does not pose any food safety risk - there is no evidence that you can get it by eating pork. The illness also tends to be relatively mild - similar in severity to recent strains of regular, seasonal flu. Hospitalization rates for H3N2v have been relatively low. They did note, however, that this year's regular seasonal flu vaccine will not protect against H3N2v.

Health officials stressed that there is no reason to discourage people from patronizing live animal markets - or visiting the upcoming State Fair, local county fairs or other venues where pigs may be present - because of concerns about H3N2v.

MDH has been working with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the Minnesota State Fair to address possible concerns about H3N2v, and take steps to prevent the spread of the illness. MDH has been conducting stepped-up surveillance for possible cases of H3N2v, leading directly to identification of the two cases reported today.

Other preventive measures have included working with state and local fair veterinarians to monitor pigs for signs of disease, and encouraging 4-H and FFA participants who are exhibiting swine to let staff nurses know if they are ill.

MDH has joined fair officials in discouraging fairgoers or exhibitors from eating, drinking or placing anything in their mouths while in animal exhibit areas, and emphasizing the importance of washing their hands with soap and running water after any exposure to animals.

People who are running a fever or have other flu symptoms are being advised to avoid contact with pigs, since H3N2v can be passed from humans to pigs, as well as from pigs to humans.

Exhibitors and others who can't avoid contact with pigs are being encouraged to take additional protective measures if they develop possible flu symptoms. Those measures include wearing protective clothing, gloves and a mask that covers the nose and mouth.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health is encouraging pork producers to continue observing good biosecurity practices on their farms. BAH is recommending that farmers observe a number of precautions to help protect livestock and people from illness:

* Minimize the number of visitors on the farm.

* Avoid sharing equipment with other farms.

* Do not allow anyone showing signs of illness on your farm.

* Encourage workers to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water before eating or drinking.

Livestock farmers should also continue to watch for signs of sickness in their animals and talk to their veterinarian about any concerns. Health officials say there is no reason to forgo a trip to the fair - or refrain from patronizing live animal markets. However, they do suggest taking a prudent approach if you are at high risk for complications ofthe flu. They suggest that you may want to consult with your health care provider about the risks associated with H3N2v - and consider avoiding exposure to swine - if you are in a high risk group.

People at high risk for flu complications include:

* Children under five and people age 65 and older.

* Pregnant women.

* People with underlying health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or neurological problems.

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