Planning to visit the pig barn at the fair? Health officials advise precautions against swine flu
Planning to visit the swine barn at the county or state fair? Be careful to avoid potential exposure to swine influenza, especially if you have risk factors that make you more vulnerable, health officials caution.
The heads-up was issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as thousands of people prepare for the late-summer ritual of going to the fair.
Although it's rare, swine influenza viruses sometimes spread from pigs to people and vice versa. Last year Minnesota saw at least three cases of suspected swine flu among individuals who had been exposed to pigs at the State Fair.
The culprit in the Minnesota cases was a variant of the H2N1 virus, which was responsible for a pandemic outbreak of flu in 2009-10.
A bigger concern for the CDC, however, has been the H3N2v virus, which is thought to spread more easily from pigs to humans than other types of swine flu.
CDC officials reported Monday that 14 cases of H3N2v have occurred this year, 13 in Indiana and one in Ohio. Last year 309 cases of H3N2v infection were found in 12 states. This variant of the influenza virus was first identified among pigs in the U.S. in 2010.
Those at high risk of influenza-related complications should avoid the swine barns at the fairgrounds. High-risk factors include being younger than 5, older than 65, pregnant or living with a chronic condition such as diabetes or asthma.
The CDC has some prevention advice for the rest of the population as well: Don't take food or drink into areas where pigs are being exhibited, and avoid close contact with pigs that look or act ill.
Hands should be washed with soap and running water before and after exposure to pigs.
Owners and handlers are advised to watch their pigs for any signs of illness and to use gloves and masks when handling a pig suspected of being sick.
Individuals with flu-like symptoms also should avoid contact with pigs for at least a week after the onset of symptoms.
People at high risk who develop flu symptoms after being exposed to pigs or attending a fair where pigs are present are urged by the CDC to call a health care provider. Although seasonal flu vaccines do not protect against the H2N2v virus, antiviral treatment may lessen the severity and duration of influenza among these individuals.