Protecting Yourself from Swine Flu

There’s a resurgence of swine flu—a new strain called H3N2v that has hit over 160 people since the beginning of July. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the danger is in interacting with pigs on the hoof, not on the plate.

Swine flu is not a food-borne illness. You don’t get it from what you eat, though eating food that has been around live animals might put you at risk. However, swine flu can pass from animals to humans through direct or indirect contact.

In the week between August 3 and August 10, the CDC reported a fivefold increase in the number of swine flu cases—and the number may now be as high as 168—with almost all the patients being under 18. These individual had all been around pigs, typically at agricultural fairs.

This is the height of the fair season, so it’s important to know what precautions to take. Don’t eat or drink anything that has been in areas where pigs are, and don’t take baby toys, pacifiers, bottles or cups into those areas. Avoid pigs that look sick; if they’re yours, call a veterinarian.

Young children, pregnant women, elderly people and anyone else with a weakened or compromised immune system, and anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms, should stay away from pig barns. Anyone else should wash afterward with soap and running water.

The good news is that, while the disease is going from animals to people, H3N2v isn’t passing from people to people. In addition, the cases so far have been mild enough, and responded to quickly enough, that there have been no reported deaths.

A previous pandemic affected 403 people between April 27 and May 5, 2009. The current strain is genetically similar in a way that makes it more prone than most pig viruses to spread to humans.

The ordinary seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against H3N2v, though it is treatable. If you show flu symptoms, particularly if you’ve recently been around livestock, get medical attention as soon as possible. Only a doctor can prescribe the influenza antiviral drugs that will treat swine flu, and treatment is most effective if administered early.

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