BALTIMORE– The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced Friday that it has identified a new strain of flu in six Queen Anne's County residents who had direct contact with pigs.
The influenza A (H3N2v) virus strain is normally associated with swine, the department said, and those in Queen Anne's County found to have contracted it were five children and one adult.
In addition, the Maryland Department of Agriculture identified influenza A with a similar testing pattern in pigs from four Queen Anne's County farms with which the sick people had contact. The pig testing is preliminary and will be confirmed by additional testing, the DHMH said.
H3N2v is the same virus strain that has been found recently in eight other states, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
None of the infected individuals has developed serious illness or been hospitalized, according to the DHMH. Symptoms are the same as seasonal flu and include fever and respiratory symptoms, such as sore throat and cough.
The virus was first detected in humans in 2011. Since July 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 224 cases of H3N2v. Nationally, there have been eight hospitalizations and no deaths. The DHMH said most cases have occurred in children, and almost in nearly all cases they have had contact with swine. The department said that in some rare cases, the virus seems to have spread from person-to-person. So far, spread has not continued beyond one or two people, the department noted. Handling or eating pork products presents no risk of exposure to influenza, according to health officials.
The DHMH said that as a result of the positive tests, the MDA's animal health inspectors are on heightened surveillance, monitoring pigs at agricultural fairs around the state more closely for flu-like symptoms.
Pigs with any suspicious symptoms or characteristics will be tested on site, with samples sent to the MDA Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory in Salisbury, which was recently approved by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory for the testing of swine flu.
Private veterinarians who encounter swine with suspected influenza like illness should contact the State Veterinarian at (410) 841-5810 or (after hours at: (410) 841-5971.)
The DHMH said the spread of influenza, including the possible spread of H3N2v, between humans can be prevented by:
Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand rub may be used.
Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Trying to avoid close contact with sick people.
If you are sick, staying home from work or school.
Getting the seasonal influenza vaccine when it becomes available. Although it is not effective against H3N2v, it is protective against other common strains of influenza.
The spread of influenza between pigs and humans can be prevented by:
Washing your hands frequently with soap and running water before and after exposure to animals.
Never eating, drinking or putting things in your mouth in animal areas.
Considering avoiding exposure to pigs and swine barns this summer, especially if sick pigs have been identified and if you are at high risk of complications from influenza.
Watching your farm animals, including pigs, for signs of illness and calling a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick.
Avoiding close contact with animals that look or act ill, and
Avoiding contact with pigs if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The DHMH recommends that people with influenza-like illness who have risk factors for complications or with serious illness contact their health care providers and inform them if they have had pig contact within the past seven days.
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