Ag Dept. links ill children, area fair
Staff & Wire Reports
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State officials said Monday that three Pennsylvania children who attended Washington County Agricultural Fair earlier this month have contracted a new strain of influenza containing the H1N1 virus.
Authorities said all three children attended the fair the week of Aug. 13-20.
They said one child has recovered, while two confirmed ill over the weekend are recuperating.
However, a county fair official said Monday evening the fair was told last week by the state Department of Agriculture that it did not appear that the influenza cases had their origins at the local fairgrounds.
Jeff Lash, vice president of Washington County Agricultural Fair, said fair board President Dick Horstman was in contact with the agricultural department Aug. 30.
"As of (Aug. 30), they didn't feel any of this was actually related to the fair," Lash said. Hostman was not available for comment Monday.
Lash acknowledged that one person from an eastern Pennsylvania county had visited the fair and later came down with the virus.
"We only knew of one person who was visiting from another county" and later became ill, Lash said.
Department of Health press secretary Christine Cronkright told the Observer-Reporter later Monday the health department is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control to learn more about the influenza virus.
"We're still in the very beginning of the investigation with this," Cronkright said Monday night. "Right now, the (Washington County) fair is the common denominator among the three cases."
The health department stressed it was not telling people not to attend public venues or fairs.
While investigators have not yet uncovered how the illness was transmitted to the three people, Cronkright said no additional human infections with this virus have been identified.
"There's been no evidence of human transmission," she said.
She said the fact that the strain was identified so quickly gives investigators an advantage that earlier flu outbreaks have not always provided.
Cronkright also noted that the flu the children contracted "is sort of a rare strain of influenza."
The health department said the three cases identified are similar to previous, rare human infections with swine-origin H3N2 viruses but are unique in that they contain a genetic component of the H1N1 virus.
"While it's not unusual for an influenza virus to evolve, what's unusual is that it does include a genetic component of the H1N1 virus" that was linked to the 2009 flu pandemic, Cronkright said.
The health department is asking all who attended the Washington County fair and have flu-like symptoms to contact their medical provider or call 1-877-PA-HEALTH.
It said symptoms would be similar to that of seasonal influenza and would include fever, lethargy (extreme tiredness), lack of appetite and coughing. Other flu symptoms may include a runny nose, sore throat, eye irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The Department of Health and the CDC are conducting increased surveillance and tracking in Southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as setting up informational booths about influenza at agricultural fairs, while the Department of Agriculture is continuing with monitoring the health of animals at all exhibitions.
Cronkright said Monday she was not sure which fairs were receiving informational booths. The West Alexander Fair opened Monday and will be open through Saturday.
"We're not telling people to avoid public venues or fairs," said DOH Secretary Dr. Eli Avila. "But until we complete our investigation, we want to make sure that the public is aware and is taking the proper precautions to protect their health."http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/sto ... sh-Co-Fair