A new type of flu virus has afflicted three children in Iowa. This virus has been linked to pigs in the past, but these new cases appaear to have been spread from person to person.
Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said that the children did not become seriously ill. The children live in rural Webster and Hamilton counties. There is concern about a potentially greater outbreak of the flu because the swine origin A/H3N2 virus was detected in patients who hadn’t had contact with animals.
Quinlisk said, “We have pretty good evidence of person-to-person spread…None of the children or anyone around them had exposure to swine, turkeys or other sources.”
The new H3N2 virus appears to have acquired a gene that might make it more transmissible from H1N1, the flu that sparked 2009’s so-called swine flu pandemic. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously detected seven cases of this strain of the flu in humans. Genetic parts are often swapped by flu viruses. Officials suspect that the new virus was created when a pig became infected with the H1N1 virus and the H3N2 virus at the same time.
The new virus combines elements of avian, human, H1N1 and swine flu viruses together into what scientists call a recombinant virus.
Since the first new H3N2 case was found in a child in Indiana in July, there have been cases found in Pennsylvania, Maine and Iowa.
In the cases prior to the kids from Iowa, the patients had exposure with pigs, either directly or through another person who’d been around pigs. Quinlisk said that in the new cases, all appearances are that one of the children gave the flu to the other two, and that none of the three had any exposure to animals. Quinlisk declined to identify the children or give their ages, only stating that they were under 18. She said that no new cases have been identified in the past week.
Health officials stressed that there is no cause for panic over the Iowa cases of H3N2. Symptom of the H3N2 flu are similar to those of the regular seasonal flu, including cough, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and body aches.
Quinlisk said, “People need to be most concerned about the regular, everyday seasonal flu.”
The vaccine being given for current seasonal flu by doctors and clinics does not specifically protect against the H3N2 virus. H3N2 does contain some antigens similar to a flu virus from the 1990s, so some people who got the flu vaccine then or had the flu then may have some immunity, according to Quinlisk.
The best prevention for any flu, including H3N2, is washing your hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes and by staying home when you’re sick, according to health officials.