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For several years, the H1N1 flu virus has been a major area of concern around the world. Recently, a new strain of avian flu has been found in seals, causing concern of a possible mutation that could infect humans. Now, the big flu virus on the radar is the H3N2 strain. This strain is actually a new form of swine flu, and it has been emerging since 2011.
This new strain of swine flu is concerning for 2 reasons:
1. It contains the same m-gene (matrix – gene) that is found in H1N1, which allows flu strains to mutate. For a mutation to happen, the host mammal must have both strains at one time, and one must have the m-gene. Once the m-gene is put into play, and the viruses have had time to work with each other, this causes a variant in one (or both) of the forms. The particular m-gene, found in H1N1 could possibly make the new H3N2 virus easier to transmit to and between humans.
2. It’s that time of year when most states hold their annual state fairs, as well as when local counties host their own. Most fairs involve contact between humans and livestock. For this reason, the most recent cases of this flu that have been reported are being tied back to the swine at fairs like this.
The CDC has stated that they have received 29 confirmed cased of this virus, since it first showed up on their radar in 2011. The gap between the 2011 cases and the new 2012 cases has been quite a few months, but the rate of 2012 cases is alarming. In 2011 there were 12 cases reported, while a total of 16 cases have been reported just in the last 3 weeks alone - 12 of which occurred the final week in July.
So far there have been no hospitalizations in 2012, and in 2011 there were only 2. There have also not been any reported deaths from this strain at this time either. Officials say that the number of infections could actually be higher, but due to the symptoms mimicking that of the regular flu, those affected may not be aware of where they contracted it, or what flu virus they actually have.
The CDC has been able to find a pattern in the cases. They found that all patients in the reported 2012 cases visited agricultural fairs and have had contact with pigs. Most of the cases reported have been found in children, though adults are not exempt. In 2011, most cases also had an agricultural fair correlation, but there were a few where infected persons had not been in contact with pigs and therefore specialists believe these could be person-to-person infections.
With a new flu strain making its way into the population, it is important to know steps to prevent the flu from becoming a major outbreak.
1. Always wash your hands, with soap, before and after handling an animal. Even if you have not touched the animal, washing your hands after being in a barn or exhibition area is a necessity. 2. Never bring food around livestock. Animals can carry all sorts of pathogens that can make their way into your food even without physical contact. 3. If you have an underlying health problem that any type of flu can irritate it is best to stay away from all livestock areas at your local fair. At the very least, avoid contact with pigs.
In the event of an outbreak, or if you want to be involved in the livestock holding areas but don’t want to get sick, make sure to wash your hands as much as possible. Use hand sanitizer when observing the livestock displays and then make a trip to the bathroom to wash your hands with soap and water when finished. There are face masks available that can assist in preventing airborne flu bacteria from entering your body. If you have a large family that needs protection from the new flu virus, there are plenty of Swine Flu virus prevention kits on the market, some made especially for families.Sources: CNN Health http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/03/health/swine-flu-cases/index.html WebMD http://www.webmd.com/news/20120803/new-swine-flu-outbreak-worries-cdc The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-area-health-officials-warn-about-exposure-to-pigs-at-county-fairs/2012/08/06/6d6d3748-dfb0-11e1-8d48-2b1243f34c85_story.html Medical News Today http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248669.php