For Your Family: Swine Flu

August 20, 2012 4:30:35 AM PDT
Swine flu cases are soaring this year. More than 200 cases have been reported so far, compared with a dozen cases at this point last year.

Dr. Emily Landon Mawdsley, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Chicago, visited ABC7 Chicago to talk about what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Helpful Information About Swine Flu from Dr. Mawdsley:

-Swine influenza viruses do not usually cause problems in humans but occasionally someone will catch these "variant" versions of influenza virus from livestock. The H3N2variant virus is found mainly in pigs and seems to have picked up what is called the "M gene" from the pandemic H1N1 flu from 2009. Theoretically, this matrix gene is what makes this particular swine flu more likely to be transmitted to humans. The first cases were detected over a year ago.

- As of August 17th, 225 cases in 2012. Only 12 cases in 2011. Most had contact with swine while exhibiting or attending agricultural fairs. No significant increase in influenza-like illness but CDC continues to monitor. Only 3 cases in Illinois. Almost all infections happened after contact with swine. No sustained person-to-person transmission.

-After the agricultural fair season ends, these cases may fizzle out. Alternatively, the virus may evolve to be better at human-to-human transmission which could result in a steady increase in cases throughout the fall and into the winter. In that scenario, things would probably be similar to the 2009H1N1 season where early and ongoing spread of H1N1 replaced the usual flu season.

- The good news is that cases are clinically identical to seasonal influenza: fever, chills, muscle aches with respiratory symptoms like cough, sore throat, or runny nose. There does not appear to be any increased risk with H3N2v compared with seasonal influenza. That said, young children, elderly people, pregnant women, certain people with long-term medical conditions, and those with compromised immune systems are at risk of complications --just like for seasonal influenza.

- Unfortunately, last year's flu vaccine will not prevent this strain of flu and this year's vaccine has already been produced. I doubt it will cover this strain.

- If you have flu symptoms (fever, chills, and/or muscle aches, with cough, runny nose, sore throat, etc) and have had direct or close contact with swine, follow the usual CDC recommendations about seeking treatment for influenza. If you are very sick or have risk factors for complications, see your doctor and be sure to mention close or direct contact with swine. Some rapid tests may miss this flu virus but the University of Chicago test (and many other pcr-based tests) will detect it. Antiviral medications used to treat seasonal influenza are effective against H3N2v and are most useful if given in the first 48 hours of illness.

- Flu viruses have not been shown to be transmissible by eating or handling pork. That said, safe food handling procedures are still important to prevent transmission of other infections.

-Prevent infection in yourself and others by washing your hands regularly with soap and running water, especially after contact with animals. Special precautions should be taken by those who keep and care for pigs. These are available on the CDC website: www.cdc.gov.


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