A new strain of pig flu has officially appeared in Minnesota. Health officials recorded the first confirmed case and a second probable case of the H3N2v virus, a new influenza strain that people acquire from pigs.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, a pre-school-age child and an older sibling fell ill with the flu two days after the family visited a live animal market in Dakota County on Aug. 10. No hospitalization was necessary. Both children are said to be recovering.
However, some experts say the pig exhibitions at the upcoming Minnesota State Fair should be curtailed or closed to the public. Michael Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune that the viruse could become more virulent if large numbers of people mingle with sick pigs.
"If anything, we're tempting fate," he said Monday.
The fair normally hosts about 1,000 pigs, which are scheduled to arrive at the fairgrounds over the next few days. So far, health officials have not taken action to put the kibosh on the pig exhibit.
"Boy, nobody has gone that far," said Jerry Hammer, the fair's general manager. "Unless we hear something from the Health Department, I don't know if anything else would change on our end."
The epidemic first began to make headlines in late July and early August. On Aug. 3, federal health officials sent out an alert about a new new pig flu spreading from the animals to people. The Center for Disease Control is asking the public to be careful when they attend county fairs or any other event where pigs may be present.
At the time, the CDC had confirmed 29 human cases involving the H3N2v virus, according to a report on ABC. The total is now over 200. Most of those infected were children. The most recent cases have occurred all over the country, including southwest Ohio, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia.
"According to USDA…this virus may be circulating widely in U.S. swine at this time," the CDC reported.
Most of the recent infections occurred in people who had direct or indirect contact with swine prior to their illness. Occasionally, a virus found in pigs can spread to people. This strain shares a gene with the 2009 pandemic swine flu strain, which could allow it to travel between the two species more easily than pig viruses typically do.
So far, the illness has not been particularly dangerous. The most recent infections were mild, resulting in typical flu symptoms like fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, and muscle aches. Of the 29 patients recorded by July, only three were hospitalized and all had pre-existing conditions that put them at a high risk.
Nevertheless, a flu of all types can lead to serious complications, so fairgoers should be exercise caution if they're near pigs. Health officials had the following advice:
• The disease does not spread to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork or other products derived from pigs. The virus spreads through the respiratory system—coughs or sneezes—and people who are nearby can breathe the virus in. It is also possible to become infected if a person touches a surface or object that has virus on it, then touches their own mouth or nose.• Be diligent about washing your hands with soap and running water, both before and after exposure to animals.
• Don't take food and drinks into livestock barns or ingest anything while in there. • Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill. Symptoms in pigs include fever, depression, coughing (barking), discharge from the nose or eyes, sneezing, breathing difficulties, eye redness or inflammation, and going off feed. However, some pigs infected with influenza viruses demonstrate no symptoms at all.
• Avoid contact with pigs if you are already experiencing flu-like symptoms.
• Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems should be take special care and perhaps avoid pigs altogether.