By Jo Ciavaglia Staff writer | 3 comments
Federal and state health officials say a new swine flu strain recently sickened two preschool age children in Pennsylvania and Indiana, but they cautioned the cases appear to be isolated.
The new virus contains a gene from the H1N1 swine flu, which caused a global pandemic two years ago, and parts of other previous, rare swine flu viruses called H3N2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which included the two cases in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, issued online Friday.
Both the infected children, ages 2 and 5, had direct or indirect contact with pigs prior to becoming sick, according to the CDC. Both children have recovered and each received a seasonal flu shot last year that contained protection against H1N1.
No additional cases have been confirmed as of Friday.
Scientists found no specific link between the two cases and there is no immediate evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, the CDC said.
"At this time, with only one case of this kind identified in Pennsylvania, we cannot yet say there is a significant risk to public health," said Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Eli Avila. "However, it is something that we are taking very seriously and actively investigating."
The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Friday issued an advisory urging the public take precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses in light of its investigation into the new swine flu strain. The agency is urging public health professionals to watch for patients with flu-like symptoms and forward lab samples to the state if a patient tests positive for Type-A virus.
State health officials are conducting exposure investigations in Schuylkill and Washington counties among people who attended an agricultural fair.
The most recent case reported appeared in a 2-year-old Schuylkill County girl who attended the fair and had contact with pigs. She became sick on Aug. 20 with a high fever, dry cough and lethargy. She tested positive for Type-A flu at a local hospital emergency room, but was not admitted.
The samples were sent to the state health labs and CDC for further testing, which confirmed the unique strain, which resembles a strain found in an Indiana boy in July. The boy, who has chronic health conditions, reportedly did not have direct exposure to pigs, but one of his caretakers did before the boy became ill.
Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker says the discovery of a new flu strain is not unusual, particularly given the CDC's new national surveillance effort designed to identify new flu strains and track flu virus trends.
"We're starting to see more strains that may not have been noticed 20 years ago because we're looking so closely today," Damsker said.
Influenza viruses are commonly found in humans, swine, birds and other animals and there are more than 50 strains of human flu virus alone. Seasonal flu season typically runs December through March.
Each winter, scientists try to predict which flu strains will circulate so they can develop an effective vaccine for the following season. Three strains are picked, two from the Type A family of influenza and one from Type B, but there is no way to predict with 100-percent accuracy which flu strains will be more active each year.
Every year public health officials typically see a few flu strains the seasonal vaccine does not protect against, Damsker said, adding that, based on the two confirmed cases, the new swine strain does not appear any more dangerous than regular flu.
"At this point, we don't think it's anything to be concerned about," he added.http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/c ... a9a2d.html