It’s the season for county fairs, which are really popular in many areas of the country, and are a big hit for my urban-centric family. My mom recently asked if she could take my daughter to the local fair. She volunteered that she would make sure to stay away from the pigs. Huh? Apparently I missed the hoopla about the new concern about swine flu. Sometimes it’s hard to know what we should be really concerned about and what is overblown thanks to media reports and our love of drama. So I chatted with Roberta DeBiasi, MD, the Acting Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s National, for some perspective. She’s my go-to resource for practical advice on all the creepy germs I hear about. How serious is this new swine flu warning?
Every year there are new influenza strains. Some are human strains and some are animal strains – meaning they are passed between animals (like birds and pigs). The biggest concern is that an animal strain will figure out how to cross over into humans. These combination strains are the most concerning because we have the least resistance to them. The chances of this happening are rare, but there is always a potential.
This current strain, known as H3N2v, has mostly been transmitted from pigs to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which tracks this information. There haven’t been any instances of this flu virus passing from human to human, but viruses can change quickly, so we look to the CDC for guidance.
What are the symptoms of this type of flu?
The symptoms are the same as seasonal flu:
What if I think my child has the flu?
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea can sometimes occur in children.
It’s important to go to your doctor to be tested if you think you your child may have the flu. The flu is a virus, so you can’t take antibiotics. Your doctor will recommend the proper course of treatment. Young children, and people with compromised immune systems, are particularly susceptible to complications from the flu, so they need to be carefully monitored.
Will the seasonal flu vaccine offer protection against this current outbreak of flu?
No, the flu vaccine offers protection against the seasonal flu, not the current strain that we’re seeing now. However, it’s still important to get the flu vaccine this fall.
So what’s the bottom line? Should I avoid taking my child to the county fair or the farm?
I don’t think there is any reason to avoid fairs, but it’s an opportunity to reinforce good hygiene. Parents should encourage their children to wash their hands frequently. I would also recommend parents carry some hand sanitizer with them, in case soap and water isn’t readily available. It’s important for parents to wash their hands too.
Don’t eat or drink or put anything in your mouth when visiting animal areas – especially pigs. People with chronic conditions or risk factors that put them at high risk for seasonal flu complications might consider a avoiding agricultural fair attendance
Also, make sure your child doesn’t kiss or lick a pig. I know it sounds bizarre, but many children love to give animals kisses, so make sure your kids avoid that.
This all sounds reasonable. We’ll be heading to the county fair this weekend. My goal is to avoid pig kisses.
CDC Flu Info
Children’s National Flu Resource Center
If you want a lot more info, here’s a transcript of a recent briefing with CDC officials.