Swine Flu Variant Spreads

3:28 PM, Aug 9, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -- Since mid-July of this year, a new strain of swine flu continues to spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that the count of infections in 2012 reached 146. The majority of the cases occurred in Indiana (113) and Ohio (30). 

The virus is a variant of influenza A, or H3N2. This variant poses an increased risk to humans because the it now has the "matrix-gene" (or the M gene), which can make the virus more easily transmissible to humans. The H3N2 virus picked up the M gene from the H1N1 virus.

The virus has also been found in swine in many U.S. states, and investigations suggest that infections were due to contact with swine, as well as some limited human to human transmission. 

Dr. Joseph Bresee, an epidemiologist in the CDC's Influenza Division told CNN that most of the cases have been in children and young adults, and that state or county fairs could be to blame.

"This time of the year is the time when you have fairs around the country...thousands of them. That accounts for the increased transmission more than anything else," Bresee told CNN.

The CDC says that the severity of illness is comparable to the severity of illness with the seasonal flu. However, they are closely monitoring human infections because it is possible that the virus could change and become widespread.

The virus is not a food borne virus. It is spread just like any other flu -- when someone sneezes or coughs. 

The CDC released a health advisory on August 3rd with several recommendations to protect against the virus.

The simplest is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water when around pigs. In addition, avoid eating or drinking in close proximity to animals, and avoid close contact with animals that look or seem ill. For those who are at higher risk for complications with flu symptoms (including those with heart disease, diabetes, or asthma), it's best just to stay away from pigs altogether.

Bresee told CNN that they have already taken preliminary steps to develop a vaccine for H3N2, and they aim to have one quickly available in case a pandemic occurs. 

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