The Union County Health Department has confirmed three cases of swine flu in area residents.
“We have three confirmed cases of H3N2v (commonly referred to as swine flu) in Union County residents,” Mary Salimbene Merriman, epidemiologist for the Union County Health Department, wrote in a release. “H3N2v is a variant of influenza A viruses that can be transmitted from pigs to people.”
Jennifer Thrush, public information officer for the local health department, said all three individuals were under the age of 18 and all attended the Union County fair.
“All I can say at this point is that they had contact with the swine at the fair,” Thrush said this morning. “I can’t draw a direct line going 100 percent that this is where they got it because that test is not available to us.”
Thrush said the Union County Fair Board contacted the health department to make sure officials were aware of an outbreak of the flu during the fair.
“That triggered us to send information to all of our health care providers,” Thrush said.
Physicians were asked to check individuals with flu-like symptoms, “to see if it was just seasonal flu, which we are a bit early for, or if it was a novel strain, like the H3N2v swine flu,” Thrush said.
Symptoms of swine flu are similar to the seasonal flu and include a fever of more than 100°F, tiredness, lack of appetite, and coughing. She said some patients have also reported runny nose, sore throat, eye irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
She said the timing of the flu is really the only way a doctor would readily know a patient had swine flu and not seasonal flu.
Thrush said the swine flu tests, “do take some time to come back.”
Once the results were reported, state and federal health officials were notified.
“It’s different for each person,” Thrush said.
Prior to the three confirmed cases in Union County, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 11 swine flu infections in Ohio residents.
Thrush said the window for symptoms to begin appearing is between two and seven days after exposure to pigs.
Health department, officials are asking people who have had contact with swine or swine exhibits to be on the lookout for flu-like illness. If individuals who have had recent contact with swine or swine exhibits develop flu-like symptoms, they are encouraged to contact their doctor and ask if flu testing is recommended.
“We are asking people who have had contact with swine or who have recently visited a swine exhibit to be on the look-out for signs and symptoms of the flu,” Jason Orcena, health commissioner for the Union County Health Department, wrote in a release. “If you do develop symptoms, please contact your doctor when symptoms begin and ask if influenza testing is recommended for you.”
Thrush said visiting the doctor if you are ill and getting tested for flu is important for both the individual and the community. Flu testing helps with the treatment of the individual, but it also helps create a picture of what flu activity looks like in the community. This is especially important when dealing with a variant flu like H3N2v not commonly seen in people.
“One of the core functions of public health is disease surveillance. As a local health department, we collect disease data at the community level,” Orcena said in the release. “This data feeds into state and national surveillance networks,” said Orcena. “Our disease investigators interview potential cases. They try to find linkages between individual cases. They look for novel or rare viruses and bacteria, and work with the state department of health and the CDC to determine if we are seeing an increase in a certain novel virus and examine if a novel virus is spreading with greater ease. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent the spread of influenza and reduce the risk for people.”
Thrush stressed that person-to-person spread of this virus is “very limited or rare” and no sustained or community spread of H3N2v has been identified at this time.
“That’s why it is important to collect that data,” Thrush said. “We want to identify that trigger point. If we do begin to see this spreading from person to person, that would be an alert to us from a national health perspective.”
Health officials said they believe the spread of flu virus from infected pigs to people happens the same way seasonal flu viruses spread between people – mainly through infected droplets created when an infected pig coughs or sneezes and people inhale them, or touch something that has virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
Thrush said eating or handling pork meat does not spread swine flu.
“That raw meat is not how you are going to get swine flu,” Thrush said.
While the county and state fairs have recently closed, Thrush said the Richwood Independent Fair begins Aug. 30 and runs through Sept. 4. Health department officials are asking fair exhibitors and visitors to take “simple precautions” when handling livestock or visiting livestock exhibits.
– Always washing hands with soap and water before and after petting or touching any animal.
– Never eating, drinking or putting anything in your mouth while in barns and other livestock areas.
– Leaving strollers outside animal exhibits and carry small children.
Older adults, pregnant women, young children and people with weakened immune systems should consider avoiding livestock exhibits.
Those wanting more information about H3N2v, are asked to contact the Union County Health Department at (937) 642-2053.
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