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On September 2, the Center for Disease Control reported that two children from Pennsylvania and Indiana, a boy and a girl respectively, were infected with a previously unknown flu virus that included a gene from the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus. Fortunately, both children recovered and there has been no evidence that the virus had spread to anyone else.
Thus, it does not appear to pose a significant public health concern, officials state. “We wanted to provide some information without being alarmist because people have contact with pigs at fairs this time of year and doctors should watch for possible flu cases” said Lyn Finelli, the CDC’s flu surveillance chief. “We’re always concerned when we see transmission of animal viruses to humans.”
Both the children are two years old and had previously attended county fairs where they were exposure to pigs. The boy from Indiana was apparently infected by a caretaker who had been showing pigs at the fair a few days prior to the boy taking ill. He had developed a fever, cough, shortness of breath and diarrhea on July 23.
Since he had other chronic health problems, doctors hospitalized him for three days. On the other hand, the girl from Pennsylvania appeared to have been infected after she had touched a pig at the petting zoo. She too had developed a fever and cough as well as fatigue on Aug 20. However, she was not hospitalized, but rather sent home to recover.
Only 21 cases have been documented in the last five years of people getting the flu from pigs. Samples from both children were sent to state laboratories, which determined they were unusual and sent them to the CDC for further analysis.
CDC scientists found the viruses were a strain known as H3N2 but had picked up a so-called M, or “matrix” gene, from the 2009 H1N1 virus that caused the 2009-10 swine-flu pandemic. Since the report of the initial children, two more have been reported in Pennsylvania, raising the total of three children in that state.
Like the other child, the two children attended the same county fair in southwestern Pennsylvania in the week of Aug 13. The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) reported that the first girl had fully recovered while the new cases are recovering. PDH and CDC are still unsure how these children were infected by the novel strain. The only link between the three was the county fair.
Brandi Hunter-Davenport, a PDH spokesperson said no information was available yet on whether the pigs at the fair were infected with the novel virus. “We’re still investigating what the linkages are here, if it’s human-to-human or animal-to-human transmission,” she said.
Both organizations are increasing surveillance in southwestern Pennsylvania and setting up information booths at agriculture fairs, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is monitoring the health of animals at fairs, according to the PDH release.PDH is not telling people to avoid public venues or fairs, but are informing the public to be aware of the novel flu and to take proper precautions to protect their health.
They also urge those who are experiences flu-like symptoms to immediately contact their local health care provider or call the health department.