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Published July 17, 2009, 02:06 PM

FLU NOTEBOOK: Don't give pigs human flu

ST. PAUL – When the new flu began to spread, since it was called swine flu, many people were concerned about catching it from hogs.

By: Don Davis, Pine Journal

ST. PAUL – When the new flu began to spread, since it was called swine flu, many people were concerned about catching it from hogs.

Now, however, some are concerned that swine may get sick from flu-infected people, especially at local and state fairs.

The Minnesota Health Department's Buddy Ferguson said: "Don't bring your swine to the fair if they are sick and don't go to the fair if you are sick."

A letter state health and Board of Animal Health officials sent to fair managers and veterinarians said any hog that appears to have flu-like symptoms must immediately be sent home. The letter also encourages people to be careful not to infect hogs.

"We strongly encourage anyone who has had a fever and a cough or sore throat within seven days of the fair to stay home," the letter said. "In addition, we encourage people to wash their hands often and to cover their cough."

Oregon agriculture officials went even further. They recommend that people attending fairs this year be kept six feet from swine, so they are less likely to infect the livestock.

There are reports from other countries that humans have infected hogs.

Public duties

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says "individuals have an important role in protecting themselves and their families:"

-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

-- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

-- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

-- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

-- If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.

The symptoms

The new flu virus symptoms are like those reported by people suffering from the seasonal flu: sore throat, cough, runny nose, fever, malaise, headache and joint and muscle pain.

However, the new flu also can hit a patient lower, causing nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

The World Health Organization reports that people become infected when sick people cough or sneeze, leaving infected droplets in the air or on surfaces. "Another person can breathe in contaminated air, or touch infected hands or surfaces, and be exposed," WHO reports.

Accidental flu?

Scientists suspect the H1N1 flu virus is circulating because of a laboratory mistake.

Nationally known epidemiologist Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota said that it is thought a Soviet Union lab accidentally allowed it to escape in about 1977.

A New England Journal of Medicine article suggests that a 1950 H1N1 strain had died out, but some was kept in the laboratory.

"The re-emergence was probably an accidental release from a laboratory source in the setting of waning population immunity to H1 and N1 antigens." Dr. Shanta Zimmer and Donald Burke of the University of Pittsburgh wrote.

By the numbers

More than 94,000 people have been confirmed to have the flu worldwide, but those numbers do not tell the whole story.

Far from it.

In many counties, including the United States, local public health officials no longer try to confirm every flu-like case as the H1N1 flu. Instead, they only require the testing of the most serious cases.

In the United States, for example, about 34,000 flu cases have been confirmed – more than a third of the global number – but federal health officials say at least 1 million actually have had the flu.

What's in a name?

The current pandemic flu began life known as the swine flu.

However, pork producers loudly complained that it was affecting their business, even though scientists say human cannot get the flu from eating pork. So the name gradually changed.

Some began calling it the "novel flu" and others the "new flu." Still others use the term "A H1N1."

Travel goes on

The World Health Organization reports that travel restrictions are not recommended as countries fight the new flu strain.

"Limiting travel and imposing travel restrictions would have very little effect on stopping the virus from spreading, but would be highly disruptive to the global community," the WHO reports.

The organization has looked at past flu pandemics and disease outbreaks and found no evidence that restricting ravel would help.

More information

-- www.health.state.mn.us

-- www.cidrap.umn.ed

-- www.who.int/en

-- www.cdc.gov

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