Pigs look healthy but test positive for flu at fairs; transmission seen between pigs and humans

This is part of the reason people – and fair organizers – have to be far more careful than they ever thought.

More than 80 percent of pigs that tested positive for influenza A virus at Ohio county fairs between 2009 and 2011 showed no signs of illness, according to a new study.

Ohio State University researchers tested 20 pigs each at 53 fair events over those three summers and found at least one flu-positive pig at 12 fairs – almost a quarter of fairs tested.

The influenza strains identified in pigs in this study include H1N2 and H3N2 viruses – strains that have been circulating in pigs since 1998. In 2011, all of the H3N2 and H1N2 isolates found in pigs at the fairs contained a gene from the 2009 pandemic strain of H1N1, which is similar to the H3N2v strain causing human illness this year.

Though this finding alone is no cause for panic, it does show how quickly influenza viruses can change, said Andrew Bowman, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State.

In a second study led by Bowman, researchers compared the genomic sequences of influenza A viruses recovered in July 2012 from pigs and people. The analysis, showing a greater than 99 percent genetic similarity among the viruses, confirms that pigs and humans were infected with the same virus, indicating interspecies transmission.

As of Sept. 25 this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed 107 human cases of H3N2v influenza in Ohio since July 2012, with the majority linked to exposure to pigs at agricultural fairs. While most of the human illness caused by H3N2v has been mild, one person, who had a compromised immune system, has died.

Both studies appear online and are scheduled for later print publication. The three-year surveillance at Ohio fairs is published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the analysis of human and pig viruses appears in Emerging Microbes & Infections.

Beware pigs with goop in their eyes at the fair: New flu virus can pass from pigs to people

I’ve been listening to people preach petting zoo safety for 15 years, along with all kinds of food safety gospel, and it’s all faith-based.

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today reports a cluster of flu cases linked to contact with pigs has doctors at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning people to wash up and avoid eating around animals as they attend county and state fairs.

The new influenza strain sickened at least 12 people last week. All cases involved recent contact with pigs at agricultural fairs. Hawaii and Indiana each has one case, and 10 were linked to last week’s Butler County Fair in Ohio. Four other cases have been linked to a county fair in Indiana that ran July 8-14. None resulted in hospitalization or death.

The new flu goes by the name influenza A (H3N2) variant, or H3N2v, and was first identified in humans a year ago, says Joseph Bresee of the CDC Influenza Division. Of the 29 cases that have been reported so far, 80% "had swine contact before getting ill and most of that contact was at county fairs," he said.

To avoid H3N2v, people attending agricultural fairs and other events involving swine should take these precautions, CDC says:

• Wash hands with soap and water before and after exposure to animals.
• Avoid eating, drinking or putting anything in the mouth in animal areas.
• Don’t take food or drink into animal areas.
• Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses should avoid exposure to animal areas.
• If you develop flu symptoms after attending an agricultural fair, tell your doctor.
• Avoid sick pigs.

How do you know whether a pig is sick? Look for "a pig that’s got a runny nose, goop in their eyes or they’re standing away from other pigs in the enclosure," says Lisa Ferguson, a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Policy Program.

More rock, less BS.

Is handwashing enough?

Washing your hands is great, but it isn’t enough to stop the spread of influenza. Experts from the University of California-Berkeley, Mark Nicas (Environmental Health Sciences) and Arthur Reingold (Epidemiology) say handwashing is one of several ways to combat influenza. Other ways include not touching your face (eyes nose, or mouth) and staying home from school or work if sick.

Reingold says you’re more likely to get sick from influenza, especially the H1N1 virus, from airborne particles because inhaling the flu particles gives you a larger dose than by touching a contaminated object. And, according to Nicas, students at UC Berkeley touch their face an average of 16 times per hour. That is 384 times to transmit what ever is on your hands into mucus glands located in your mouth, eyes, and nose in one day.

Since influenza transmission hasn’t been studied as much as other viruses, like the rhinovirus, the best method of prevention remains unknown. Still, handwashing is a wonderful tool to use; we must remember other preventative ways as well. Stay home and away from others if you’re sick or you feel like you’re getting sick, don’t touch your face, and cover your nose and mouth with your elbow when sneezing and coughing.

Avoid sickness this flu season, get a flu shot and wash your hands

Seasonal influenza will probably be on the rise again.  The flu season lasts from approximately October through March, with peak months being January and February.  In all likelihood I’ll probably come down with the flu this season, from a combination of stress and little sleep (part of my life as a veterinary student).  But I’ve increased my chances for a flu-less flu season by getting a flu shot.  The flu shot, in combination with precautions such as washing your hands frequently, covering your cough and sneeze and staying home when sick are good ways for people to protect themselves and their families from infection.

Anyone, including healthy people, can get the flu.  The FDA has approved four antiviral drugs to fight influenza A, but they don’t always work because flu virus strains can become resistant to one or more of these medicines. They also aren’t a cure-all for the flu.  It’s best to avoid getting the flu rather than treating it as quickly as you can once you’ve got it.

Unfortunately the flu is very contagious. It can be caught from breathing in droplets in the air from someone sneezing, coughing or talking. The flu also is spread when people touch something with the flu viruses on it such as a doorknob or handrail, and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. People can spread flu from one day before symptoms appear to seven days after symptoms go away.

Since handwashing is a great practice to help prevent the flu (along with preventing foodborne illnesses), I’ve been washing mine like crazy.  But I’m also glad to hear about other practices put in place to reduce flu exposure.  The priest at my church has instructed parishioners to give a verbal sign of peace during mass, rather than a handshake.  I couldn’t be happier about it.  I can remember many times that I’ve been standing next to a person in mass, and after watching them cough into their hands for most of the service, the last thing I want to do is shake their germy hands.  

When I visited Japan this past summer, I noticed that it was common custom for a person to wear a facemask in public if they were suffering from the flu.  The Japanese were so polite during my visit, and I think it’s fitting that they were considerate enough to protect those around them from their germs.  Of course facemasks are also worn in many other countries for health reasons, though I haven’t seen anyone using one here in Kansas.  If the trend could catch on I would be gung-ho for wearing a facemask.  Then again I’m a bit of a germaphobe.

They are many (debatable) remedies you can buy to boost your immune system.  But the best flu prevention still remains the flu shot.  Go out and get yours today, and keep washing those hands.  Have a healthy flu season.

Bird flu may kill badminton grand prix

The Times of India reports today that avian influenza may cost India its first grand prix badminton tournament.  The story says:

Bird flu outbreaks in China had made India ban import of all premium goose feathers of Chinese origin to manufacture shuttlecocks.
In a last-minute bid to save India the blushes, BAI president V K Verma has shot off letters to secretaries in the animal husbandry department and the ministries of health and agriculture, as well as to the Sports Authority of India, urging them to review the ban.

Interesting fallout from the animal disease outbreak.

Is vomiting a symptom of bird flu?

Apparently that’s what a flight crew on a Korean Air flight to Auckland thought when they alerted police on the ground that a passenger was vomiting, or "displaying bird flu symptoms".  According to an AP report in the New York Times today:

Crew on the flight, from South Korea via Australia, alerted airport authorities when the woman began vomiting and showing other possible bird flu symptoms, sparking a lockdown on the tarmac as the plane landed, said Norman Upjohn, an ambulance duty manager.
The 223 people aboard the Boeing 747 were held for about an hour under ”full quarantine procedure” while a paramedic in protective clothing examined the woman, Upjohn said.

South Korea declared itself bird flu free in June, after reporting no new cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu — in birds or humans — for three months.

I sure hope that no one with a bit of vomit or diarrhea flies to NZ from the UK this week.