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Two cases of variant swine flu reported

Jan Shepel

Aug. 23, 2012 | 0 comments

Last week we reported that there had been no Wisconsin cases of a new version of swine flu, related to exhibitors at county and state fairs.

Then on Thursday (Aug. 16) the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene confirmed that two people in the state, both connected to the Wisconsin State Fair, had tested positive for this new strain of swine flu - called H3N2 virus.

It had previously been known to affect fair goers in Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.

It is called a variant because it has jumped from swine to people.

Two young people, one an exhibitor and the other a fair worker, contracted the flu while at the Wisconsin State Fair, health officials concluded.

State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Ehlenfeldt said this variant flu virus, which incorporates both human and avian (bird) genes, has been circulating in the swine population for years. It has jumped from swine to humans now, but there isn't any evidence so far that it can move from human to human, he added.

That makes it less of a concern from a human outbreak standpoint, he said.

Dr. Jim Kazmierczak, the State Public Health Veterinarian with the Department of Health Services, agreed that it doesn't look like this strain is jumping from person to person. If that remains the case, he expects the numbers for this flu to stay pretty low.

Though this flu is mild in severity, the number of cases has gotten the attention of U.S. health officials. There are now over 150 cases of human infections with this H3N2 virus that CDC has reported, mostly people who have had contact with pigs.

One of the Wisconsin cases involved a young adult from southeastern Wisconsin who worked at the state fair; the other was a swine exhibitor from western Wisconsin.

Health officials urge people to wash their hands repeatedly while at fairs and to use hand sanitizer when it is available.

Ehlenfeldt said a flu virus like this one is easy to ward off by simply following simple rules, like not eating or putting things in the mouth while in barns and then washing hands frequently.

Symptoms of the H3N2 flu are typically very mild and similar to seasonal flu including fever, nausea and lack of appetite. Ehlenfeldt said that symptoms may be so mild that the disease is underreported because people don't feel that sick.

Ehlenfeldt said that there have been human infection cases of H3N2 virus in Hawaii and Michigan this summer, in addition to the four Midwestern states.

Federal health officials made an initial warning about this flu virus on Aug. 2 and Ehlenfeldt said his agency immediately reached out to the Wisconsin Pork Association and county and state fair officials to get out the word out about prevention.

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