August 29, 2012
Additional case of variant flu strain reported in state
Health officials had expected to see more cases; behavior of virus does not appear to have changed
An additional case of variant H3N2 (H3N2v) influenza has been confirmed in a Minnesota resident, according to officials at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
The latest case was reported in a man in his twenties from the Twin Cities metro area. The man had purchased a pig at a live animal market in Dakota County on Aug. 17.
MDH officials emphasized that they expect to continue seeing more cases of the illness, and that the virus has not become more virulent or more easily spread.
“We expect to continue seeing new cases of this illness, at least for a while,” said Deputy State Epidemiologist Richard Danila, “However, we have not seen any change in the behavior of this virus. We have been actively looking for cases. We are recommending that clinicians ask patients about swine contact, and send clinical samples for patients with influenza symptoms.”
“Although people can get the virus from pigs, it isn’t easily passed from one person to another, and the illness has not been severe,” Danila said. “This latest flu patient did not require hospitalization.”
So far this year, nationwide, 277 cases of H3N2v influenza have been reported to CDC. Since July only 13 people have been hospitalized. All have since recovered.
“Flu should always be regarded as a serious illness,” Danila said. “However, the illness caused by this virus appears to be comparable to regular seasonal flu.”
The latest Minnesota case is the third to occur in a state resident who had visited a live animal market. Minnesota had previously recorded one confirmed and one probable case in children whose family had been to a live animal market.
MDH officials emphasized, however, that those cases should not be taken as evidence of any unique risk associated with live animal markets.
“For the most part, people get this illness from pigs,” Danila said. “Any situation where people come in contact with pigs can be a potential source of exposure.” Officials from MDH and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) have been working with proprietors of the three live animal markets in the Twin Cities to reduce the risk of becoming infected at one of those facilities.
Health officials emphasized that you can’t get H3N2v from eating pork – H3N2v is in no way a food safety issue.
Efforts are also continuing efforts to prevent the spread of H3N2v in connection with swine exhibits at the State Fair and local county fairs. Nationally, most reported human cases of the illness have occurred in young people who were exhibiting swine at state or local fairs, and who had prolonged, close contact with their animals. Fair officials have stepped-up procedures in place to monitor swine exhibitors for flu symptoms.
In order to reduce the risk of H3N2v infection, MDH is discouraging fairgoers and exhibitors, as well as visitors to live animal markets, from eating, drinking or placing anything in their mouths while in areas where animals are displayed or exhibited. Officials also continue to stress the importance of washing your 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.
Health officials say there is no reason to forgo a trip to the fair – or refrain from patronizing live animal markets – this year. However, they do suggest taking a prudent approach if you are at high risk for complications of the flu, and avoiding situations where you may be exposed to swine – either at the fair or at a live animal market.
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
The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who are at risk for severe illness or become severely ill with influenza-like symptoms should see a physician. Because influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective against it.