When parents take their children to the zoo, there are usually signs up saying things like “don’t feed the animals” or “avoid petting the animals.” For the most part, the signs are there for safety precautions that protect both people and the animals. However, for those who like to go to county fairs and pet the pigs, it would be in a person’s best interest not to pet the pigs.
That is the message health officials passed along to county and state visitors on Thursday because they reported a five-fold increase in cases dealing with a new strain of swine flu. The disease is passed from pigs to people and most of the cases seemed to be linked to fairs, most likely due to the fact that visitors tend to be in close contact with infected pigs.
Dr. Joseph Bresee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “this is not a pandemic situation.” This particular flu has only mild symptoms and so far, it’s not really spreading from person to person. However, Bresee points out that the flu can be a risk for some, so people should remain cautious whenever possible.
Bresee, the agency’s chief of influenza epidemiology, continued to say that thanks to a wave of new cases reported in Ohio and Indiana, the count increased largely from 29 a week ago to 158 this week. The most infected patients were children – most likely because many were working closely visiting, displaying and raising pigs at these agricultural fairs. He also said to reporters during a conference call that the recent cases include one in Hawaii and one in Illinois, 30 in Ohio and 113 in Indiana.
Officials in Indiana reported that on Thursday afternoon, they had an additional seven more confirmed cases; even more than Bresee noted. This would raise the total to 165 and demonstrate that the count is changing rapidly. A reason for this is diagnosis of cases in the last week have been quicker because confirmation of a case no longer has to be sent out to the CDC for testing. The process is now quicker because the CDC has passed along their test kits so states can run their own tests in confirming cases of swine flu.
Good news is that this flu does not seem unusually dangerous and that though two recent cases had patients hospitalized but both recovered and were discharged, the majority infected had mild cases and no one died, according to Bresee. Also, he pointed out that since recent cases appear to have been spread from pigs to humans, the disease is not very contagious between person-to-person.
Bresse does suggest that in coming weeks, there might be a very small number of cases reported where the disease is spread from one person to another. Diseases sometimes mutate and when they do, it can cause, for example, the disease changing from catching it through contact only to now becoming airborne.
Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., says that a genetic change was made possible from the 2009’s pandemic H1N1 influenza. A so-called M gene could cause the virus’ ability to infect and spread among humans. The CDC plans to watch and monitor cases as they develop resulting in pig to human contact and any person to person contact.
In order to make sure you are better protected from catching the disease, some might suggest staying away from swine shows. Health officials, however, do not think it’s necessary to cancel the shows at this time; but, they are urging people to take precautions. Officials are suggesting that those attending the fairs should avoid taking food and drinks into livestock barns as well as washing their hands. Also, young children pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems should take extra precautions.
Swine Flu Strain 2012
Best practices in the livestock barns, animal areas and petting zoos includes washing your hands. Exhibitors, fair customers and vendors should be aware of and follow all safety precautions when working with or visiting animals.