Swine (H1N1) flu: Testing Procedures and Safety Guidelines
New Swine Flu Cases Confirmed
CDC concerned that new subtype features the M gene.
By Michael Smith, MedPage Today
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FRIDAY, Aug. 3, 2012 (MedPage Today) —The CDC is reporting 12 new cases of human infection with a swine influenza virus, including 10 linked to exposure to pigs at a county fair in Ohio.
The new cases of what the agency is calling H3N2v flu bring the total to 29 since the first case of human infection was detected in July 2011, according to Joseph Bresee, MD, of the CDC's influenza division.
All told, there have been 17 cases this year, 16 of them in the past few weeks, Bresee told reporters in a telephone news briefing on Friday. Most of the infections are in children and have been linked to either farming pigs or exposure to the animals at fairs.
Indeed, most of the recent cases have been linked to a single fair in Butler County, Ohio, Bresee said, and the CDC is concerned there may be more such cases as the nation's fair season hits its full stride.
The agency is also concerned about the new subtype, Bresee said, because it has acquired a key gene – the "M gene" — from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain.
Although there remain questions about the function of the M gene, Bresee toldMedPage Today, it's known to be involved in viral replication and viral release from infected cells.
"The M gene from a virus that's shown the ability to adapt to humans is now in a virus that's coming from swine," Bresee said, which may mean the H3N2v strain has to ability to infect or spread among humans to "a greater extent" than those with M genes from other types of flu.
On the other hand, he said, there's no need to panic: There has been no human-to-human spread this year, and all the cases in 2012 have been self-limiting respiratory infections that did not require hospital care.
"It may be a little different, but it's still not a human virus," Bresee said.
Human infections with the virus have been confirmed in eight states — Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and West Virginia — and the virus has been found in pigs in 11 states, according to Lisa Ferguson, DVM, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Given the wide geographical spread of the virus, she told reporters, it's "unlikely" that there was a single swine herd that led to all of the cases, but investigators are still trying to pin down the links.
While there is some genetic variation among virus isolates from the infected humans, they are "very similar viruses," Bresee said.
The current seasonal flu vaccine contains an H3N2 strain, but it's sufficiently different from the swine variant that it's unlikely that a vaccination would be protective, he said. Instead, the CDC is urging standard precautions – washing hands before and after exposure to pigs, avoiding eating near them, and staying away from pigs that have runny noses, coughs, or "goop in their eyes."
He added that CDC researchers have developed a candidate vaccine against the strain, which will be entering clinical trials soon to test its immunogenicity and safety.
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