The name of the virus is “H3N2v. The “v” stands for “variant,” which is a CDC designation for a virus that can infect humans.
“It doesn’t always spread from pigs to humans,” says Dr. T.R. Lansford, Region 5 director of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), “but it can.”
The influenza is spread from swine to humans the same way flu is spread from one person to another — a human comes in contact with infected droplets when an infected pig coughs or sneezes.
“The chances are pretty low,” says Bee County Extension Agent Matt Bochat, “as long as you don’t hang around pigs.”
Which is exactly what happens during fair season, particularly at the annual Bee County Livestock and Homemakers Show, which next year is Jan. 24 to Feb. 2.
To alert area farmers and ranchers to the risk, Bochat distributed the CDC and TAHC bulletins to the show’s board of directors when it met yesterday evening.
The CDC notes that most cases among humans are mild, but a few who have contracted the virus have been hospitalized.
While those who raise and show pigs would seem to be at a higher risk, Lansford points out that they are generally young and healthy, compared with many who attend the fairs.
Those at higher risk, according to the CDC, are people:
•Younger than 5
•With long-term health issues such as asthma and other lung diseases
•With heart disease
•With weakened immune systems
•With neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions
•Who are pregnant
•65 and older
Additionally, the CDC warns fair goers:
•Not to eat or drink or put anything in their mouth in the pig barn and show area.
•Not to bring toys, pacifiers, bottles, strollers or similar items into the pig barn or show areas.
•To wash hands often with soap and running water before and after viewing show hogs.
•Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth.
•If you already have the flu, stay home.
For exhibitors, the CDC warns that anyone who is at high risk of serious flu complications should stay away from the pig barn — including not only exhibitors at high risk but family members as well — even if it means not showing animals this year.
Fair exhibitors not at risk should monitor their swine for symptoms — lethargy, loss of appetite, cough or runny nose. If any appear, contact a veterinarian.
In addition, exhibitors should:
•Avoid close contact with pigs that exhibit the symptoms.
•Take protective measures — protective clothing, gloves and masks — if close contact is necessary.
•Follow the same recommendations issued by the CDC for those just attending the fair.
The TAHC also warns those showing animals to quarantine their animals, disinfect trailers and equipment — show boxes, feed pans, etc — when returning home and to monitor the animals for flu symptoms.
Finally, the CDC also has issued instructions for those who get sick: Call your doctor. Be sure to mention you have come in contact with pigs.
Lansford says that, while it is possible for H3N2v to pass from swine to humans, the cases are rare in which one human passes the disease to another.
“There is no widespread, community involvement.”
Hoping to quell unnecessary worrying, the TAHC also stresses that pork is safe to eat, that humans cannot get the swine flu from eating or handling pork or pork products.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.