Visitors to county fairs and other agriculture events are being urged to take precautions against an influenza strain that can be spread to humans by infected pigs.
Four people who visited the Grant County Agricultural Fair between June 16 and 22 were infected with H3N2v, a type of influenza first seen in the United States in August 2011. At least two of the victims had contact with pigs, the Indiana State Department of Health said. A check by the Indiana State Board of Animal Health found 13 pigs at the Grant County fair were infected with the disease.
In its June 26 daily threat analysis, MESH Inc., an Indianapolis-based coalition of public and private health care providers, said, “H3N2v could be a potential risk this summer” as pigs and people are brought together at various events, including county fairs.
Infected pigs cough or sneeze, spreading the virus through the air, MESH said. Other possible sources of infection are if a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their nose or mouth.
“In some cases, the H3N2v virus seems to have spread from person-to-person,” the federal Centers for Disease Control said in an online fact sheet about the virus. “So far spread has not continued beyond one or two people.”
“Last summer demonstrated that fairs and 4-H events can become a serious problem by providing an ideal environment for the spread of swine flu,” MESH said.
Two Indiana residents were infected by H3N2v in 2011; the number soared to 138 in 2012, according to the CDC. Ohio was the only other state to report more than 100 infections in 2012; more than 44 percent of the nation’s total cases were in Indiana.
Symptoms of H3N2v are similar to seasonal flu, the state health department said.
Of the 309 victims last year, 16 were hospitalized, and one died.
The person who died, and many of those hospitalized, had other high-risk conditions, the ISDH said.
Simple precautions will minimize the risk of infection, officials said. The virus can not be caught by eating pork or pork products, officials stressed.
“If you plan to attend a fair this summer, just be sure to wash your hands frequently and avoid taking food into areas where animals are kept,” State Health Commissioner William VanNess, M.D., said in a press release.
No vaccination for H3N2v has been approved, but one is being developed. The virus can be treated with antiviral drugs, the ISDH.