The Virginia Department of Health is calling on people to exercise care around pigs as the agricultural fair season gets under way. The flu virus H3N2v that normally circulates in pigs may spread to humans more easily than usual, according to the Health Department.
"It's getting from pigs to people a little more easily than other strains," said David Trump, state epidemiologist for the Virginia Department of Health. The Isle of Wight County Fair is happening now through Sept. 15 at Isle of Wight Couty Courthouse.
The virus, called a variant when it occurs in people, was first identified in pigs in 2010, according to the federal government's flu surveillance web site, http://www.cdc.gov/flu. The first cases in humans appeared in 2011, and the numbers spiked last year with more than 300 cases recorded in 12 states. This year, Indiana has reported 12 cases since June, most associated with exposure to pigs at fairs. To date, no Virginia residents have been affected, though a visitor to an agricultural fair in the north-west of the state contracted the virus, Trump said.
Symptoms, which usually develop a few days after contact, typically include fever, cough, pharyngitis, myalgia and headache. There is currently no vaccine to protect against it; however, prescription antiviral drugs used for the seasonal flu can be used to treat H3N2v. The virus, which can be transmitted from pigs to people and vice versa, is not commonly transmitted from human to human and people will not get the virus from eating pork, according to a Health Department news release.
Trump notes that there are more than 30 county fairs in Virginia where the virus could be present. The pigs may not appear to be sick so he advises using general caution. Glenn Martin, livestock and equine programs manager for the Virginia State Fair says the fair follows all Health Department regulations and all animals have to have a health certificate from a local veterinarian before attending the show and another inspection on grounds.
H3N2v symptoms are similar to seasonal flu, but serious complications can occur in people who have underlying medical conditions, said Cynthia Romero, state health commissioner.
"We encourage people to enjoy the many agricultural fairs around the commonwealth. However, it is important that they take certain precautions to protect their health."
Recommended precautions for those at high risk for flu complications include staying away from contact with pigs or swine tents at fairs; for others, the same precautions as for regular flu apply, such as washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes.
Those at high risk are:
• Children younger than 5 or older than 65, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions).
Take the following precautions:
• Wash your hands with soap and running water before and after exposure to pigs. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth in pig areas, and don't take food or drink into pig areas. Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill.
• Never take toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar items into pig areas.
• Always cover coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands often.
• Avoid contact with pigs if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms. Avoid contact for seven days after symptoms begin or until you have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, whichever is longer.
• Avoid close contact with pigs that look or act ill.
• If you must be near pigs that are known or suspected to be infected with influenza viruses, wear protective clothing, gloves and masks that cover your mouth and nose.
• If you develop a flu-like illness after exposure to pigs, see your doctor. Tell the doctor that you have had recent exposure to pigs.
For more information, visit http://www.vdh.virginia.gov.
Agricultural fairsSept. 12-15 Isle of Wight County Fair
Sept. 20-22 New Kent County Fair
Sept. 27- Oct. 6 State Fair of Virginia at the Meadow, Caroline County.
For a full listing of Virginia fairs, go to http://www.virginia.org/countyfairs/#hr and http://www.statefairva.org.