CDC Says US Swine Flu Cases Rise, More Expected--But Not a Pandemic

Aug 9, 2012, 11:40 AM

Joseph Bresee, MD, chief of influenza epidemiology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued an update this afternoon on swine flu (H3N2v virus), now circulating in the US. The number of cases has increased from 29 in three states last week to at least 145 cases in four states (Ohio, Illinois, Hawaii and Indiana.) Beginning tomorrow , CDC will issue a report each Friday on the number of cases, but states will be allowed to confirm their own case numbers (though CDC will still confirm the results at its labs) thanks to better testing now available at the state level.

Almost all cases have been reported in children who have had contact with pigs at county fairs, and Bresee says he suspect the increase in cases is because it’s now county fair season around the country. The flu, which has been largely mild, according to Bresee, can be spread when people have direct contact with pigs, when pigs spit or sneeze, or from surfaces touched by humans the pigs had contact with. Kids are less likely to have immunity to the swine flu than adults, which is why few adult cases have been reported, says Bresee. There have been two hospitalizations, and both patients have recovered and been discharged, and no deaths, though the CDC says it expects to see additional hospitalizations and, perhaps, deaths as cases increase.

The seasonal flu vaccine, now arriving at physicians’ offices, does not protect against the swine flu, but precautions can help including washing hands before and after coming in contact with swine and avoiding visits to the swine pens at county fairs by anyone with a compromised immune system, including the very young and the very old.

Bresee says no recommendations has been issued at this point to close swine shows at county fairs, and that there is no evidence of sustained human to human transmission, though CDC does expect to see some limited spread among humans. “This is not a pandemic situation” said Bresee on a call with reporters this afternoon, but CDC is continuing to monitor the cases and will provide frequent updates. “So far, if you’re not exposed to pigs, we don’t think your risk is appreciable,” Bresee says.

The CDC says people who exhibit flu symptoms should contact their doctor; antiviral drugs for influenza are effective on the swine flu now circulating.

Precautions that can help children and adults contract swine flu include:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and running water before and after exposure to animals.
  • Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth while in animal areas and don’t take food or drink into animal areas.
  • Young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems should be extra careful around animals.
  • If you have animals – including swine – watch them for signs of illness and call a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick.
  • Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill, when possible.
  • Avoid contact with pigs if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.