July 26, 2013
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is reminding anyone attending agricultural fairs this summer and fall to take precautions when coming in contact with swine.
An influenza virus that normally circulates in pigs, called influenza A H3N2v, may spread to humans more easily than usual. This H3N2v virus was circulating in pigs in 2010 and was first detected in people in 2011.
“We encourage people to enjoy the many agricultural fairs around the Commonwealth,” said State Health Commissioner Cynthia C. Romero, MD, FAAFP. “However, it is important that they take certain precautions to protect their health while having a good time.”
In 2012, a multi-state outbreak of H3N2v resulted in 309 cases nationwide, though there were no cases in Virginia.
Since June of this year, Indiana has reported 12 cases of H3N2v infection. The majority of infections are associated with exposure to pigs, with many exposures occurring at agricultural fairs.
Unlike regular flu, H3N2v is not commonly transmitted from human-to-human. People will not get the virus from eating pork.
“Most people who get sick experience mild flu-like symptoms similar to seasonal flu infection; however, serious complications can occur in people who have underlying medical conditions,” said Dr. Romero.
The VDH recommends the following guidelines to help reduce the spread of influenza viruses between pigs and people:
- Wash your hands 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 pig areas, and don’t take food or drink into pig areas.
- Never take toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar items into pig areas.
- Always cover coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands often.
- Some people are at higher risk for serious illness if they develop influenza, and should consider avoiding exposure to pigs and swine barns this fair season. People at increased risk include children younger than 5 years old, 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).