The United States reported the first known death caused by the new swine flu virus that has been jumping from pigs to people there.
An unidentified Ohio woman, who reportedly had multiple health problems, died this week of infection with the variant H3N2 virus. The woman, 61, was from Madison County near the centre of the state. She had direct exposure to pigs at a county fair before becoming ill.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control expressed sympathies, but used the opportunity to warn that people who have serious health problems should avoid swine at the current time.
“These people should absolutely not have contact with pigs or visit pig arenas at fairs this summer,” said Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of surveillance and outbreak response in the CDC’s influenza division.
People with a range of chronic illnesses — heart disease, asthma, chronic lung disease — or who have weakened immune systems are at higher risk of having severe illness if they become infected with influenza.
The CDC also reported Friday that the tally of human cases of H3N2v infection has risen to 288 since July, when infections with this virus started to pop up again after a hiatus of several months. Twelve additional cases were reported this week.
The “v” in the virus’s name — short for variant — signals this is an animal influenza strain, not the human H3N2 strain.
The surprising surge of cases this summer has been driven by transmissions occurring at state and county fairs in the U.S. The vast majority of the cases have been in children under the age of 18 who have been exposed to the virus at fairs.
Finelli said several hundred thousand children in the U.S. exhibit pigs at fairs every year. The pigs are typically sold at the fairs and taken to slaughter after the events. During the fair, it is common for children to virtually camp out in the pig barns to look after their animals.
Ten U.S. states have reported human cases. But to date no other country has reported seeing this virus, either in pigs or in people.