What could be another major outbreak of swine flu has put a damper on some popular summer activities. Victims have been exposed to pigs with a new variant of the virus. Its existence has caused me to reconsider the summer and fall county fairs I enjoy so much.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning about exposure to pigs at agricultural fairs, according to Medical News Today. The agency advises those who visit fairs to take precautions around pigs. Individuals in a group considered especially vulnerable should steer clear of swine. It contains those who are younger than 5, pregnant, or seniors. The group also includes those with certain illnesses or who have weakened immune systems.
Among 12 new cases,11 patients had been in direct or indirect contact with pigs. The remaining individual got sick after attending a fair where pigs were present. Since July 2011, 29 cases have been reported.
Two viruses were primarily responsible for the 2009 outbreak: H1N1 and H3N2. The CDC has named the new swine flu strain H3N2v--a variant of H3N2. Experts expect oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) to be useful in treating it.
No recent cases have involved human-to-human transmission. The CDC believes, however, that three 2011 cases occurred that way. It's concerned that H3N2v will spread among humans because it contains the M gene found in both 2009 viruses.
The virus dubbed the swine flu first appeared in the United States in the spring of 2009, near the end of the usual influenza season, the Mayo Clinic says. The World Health Organization declared it a pandemic for more than a year.
Swine flu complications can include the worsening of chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. Some patients develop pneumonia and even respiratory failure. Major symptoms include fever, depression, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and a discharge from the eyes and nose.
Individuals in the high-risk group should steer clear of pigs and swine barns, the CDC advises. For others, precautions can help avoid becoming ill. When going near pigs, it's important to wash hands often, especially before or after touching them or being near them.
People who opt to attend an agricultural fair should never take their food or drinks into animal areas or put anything into their mouths while near animals. Those who already have any flu or flu-like symptoms should stay away from animals. If, while experiencing symptoms, it's necessary to touch or approach pigs, wearing gloves, masks, and other protective gear is important.
Growing up in a farming area, I learned to recognize the various breeds of cows, horses, and pigs. I always look forward to yearly agricultural fairs. However, since I must take drugs to suppress my immune system, I've decided to heed the CDC's swine flu warning and stay home this year.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.