Variant Influenza Detected in 7 People Who Had Close Contact with Pigs at Fair

September 21, 2017

The Maryland Department of Health has presumptively identified the influenza virus strain H3N2v (variant flu) in seven Maryland residents who had close contact with pigs at the Charles County Fair. None of the infected individuals has developed serious illness or been hospitalized.

Influenza is an infection caused by the influenza virus which can affect people and other animals, including pigs and birds. Symptoms for the H3N2v strain are the same as seasonal flu and include fever and respiratory symptoms, such as sore throat and cough. Historically, there is limited human to human transmission from this strain of variant flu. The treatment recommendations for this strain of influenza are the same as for seasonal flu.

Health officials recommend that people with influenza-like illness contact their healthcare provider and inform them if they have had pig contact within the past seven days. Providers are advised to contact their local health departments if they suspect variant flu in their patients to coordinate appropriate testing with their local health department. The Charles County Health Department can be reached at 301-609-6900 ext. 6025 and the St. Mary’s County Health Department can be reached at 301-475-4330.

Twenty other cases of variant flu have been detected in other states this year. Of those, 18 were also the virus strain H3N2v. Illnesses associated with these variant flu infections have been mostly mild with symptoms similar to those of seasonal flu. In 2012, 13 individuals developed influenza after direct contact with sick pigs at the Queen Anne’s County fair in Maryland.

Certain people are at higher risk for complications of influenza, including children under five, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with chronic heart, lung, liver, kidney and neurologic conditions or immunosuppression.

The spread of influenza, including the possible spread of H3N2v, between humans can be prevented by:
• Avoiding close contact with sick people;
• Limiting contact with others as much as possible if you are sick to keep from infecting them and staying home from work or school if you are sick until you are fever free for 24 hours without fever reducing medicines;
• Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue immediately after use;
• Washing your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available;
• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth;
• Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu; and
• Getting the seasonal influenza vaccine when it becomes available. Although it is not effective against H3N2v, it is protective against other common strains of influenza.

The spread of influenza between pigs and humans can be prevented by:
• Washing your hands frequently with soap and running water before and after exposure to pigs;
• Never eating, drinking or putting things in your mouth in pig areas;
• Considering avoiding exposure to pigs and swine barns this summer, especially if sick pigs have been identified and if you are high risk of complications from influenza;
• Watching your pig for signs of illness and calling a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick;
• Avoiding close contact with pigs that look or act ill; and
• Avoiding contact with pigs if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Additional information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding Swine Influenza/Variant Influenza Viruses is available HERE.