When most people think about swine flu, they think of the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic. The H1N1 virus is thought to have come from a reassortment between influenza viruses in North American pig herds and Eurasian pig herds.
The H1N1 virus isn't what people are talking about anymore though. There is a new swine flu virus that is making the news, although fortunately this one has limited person-to-person spread, so there hasn't been any sustained spread in communities where it has been found. Instead, the H3N2 variant (H3N2v) virus is spreading from pigs to people.
So far, there have been at least 305 confirmed cases in the current influenza A (H3N2) variant virus outbreak. However, since our routine flu tests do not detect this virus, you have to wonder if there are many more cases that are undetected.
Fortunately, most cases are mild. The CDC does report however that at least 16 people have been hospitalized and there has been one death, a 61-year-old woman in Ohio. And there is always the risk that the H3N2v virus could change and start spreading from person to person more easily. That makes it important to try and protect your family from the H3N2v virus, including that your kids:
- Avoid pigs and swine barns if they are visiting a state fair and they are at high risk for serious flu complications, which includes children younger than age 5 years and kids with chronic health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, or a problem with their immune system, etc.
- Don't take food or drink into pig areas; don't eat, drink or put anything in your mouth in pig areas.
- Wash your hands often with soap and running water before and after exposure to pigs.
- Avoid contact with pigs if you have flu-like symptoms.
While an H3N2v vaccine is not available and this year's seasonal flu vaccine won't protect you from H3N2v, it can be treated with anti-viral flu medications, such as Tamiflu or Relenza. Early treatment with one of these medicines is a good idea for those who are at high risk for severe complications from the flu.
Keep in mind that even if you aren't worried about swine flu, it is still a good idea to make sure your kids wash their hands if they have contact with animals, whether it is at home or at a State Fair or petting zoo. As many parents hopefully know, since there have been multiple warnings about this over the years, farm animals and even many household pets, are notorious for their ability to spread infections, including E. coli and Salmonella.