Barbecue Yes, Petting Zoos No: Pigs May Be Spreading Flu to Humans, CDC Says

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy went home, and some little piggies may be infecting people with the H3N2 variant flu virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning people to refrain from having direct contact with pigs. The agency reported this week that out of 29 flu cases reported in eight states since July 2011, 19 of them were linked with fairs that featured pigs.

In a statement the CDC said that late summer is prime time for contact between swine and the public, since that’s when local fairs are in swing—fairs that typically feature farm animal exhibits and petting zoos.

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Twelve H3N2v infections were reported in Hawaii, Ohio and Indiana this week by the CDC, and ten of those were traced back to the Butler County Fair in Ohio.The virus carries the M gene from the H1N1 flu that makes it more transmissible from animals to humans.

However, it’s not so adept at spreading from human to human, the CDC’s Joseph Bresee told USA Today: “Because influenza viruses are always evolving, we'll watch closely to see if the virus has gained the capacity for efficient human to human transmission. So far we haven't seen that.”

No deaths have been reported from the virus, but three people with high-risk conditions were hospitalized. Symptoms are typical of the flu: fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, aches.

The CDC has a few tips for those headed for county fair or other swine-centric events: If you do touch a pig, wash your hands before and after contact, and never eat, drink or put things in your mouth in an animal area.

Those who should be especially careful around animals include pregnant women, people 65 and older, those with compromised immune systems and young children.

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Avoid sick pigs. How can you tell if a pig is not feeling well? Look for a runny nose and eye goop, and steer clear of animals that have separated from others, Lisa Ferguson, a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture's National Animal Health Policy Program told USA Today.

It’s probably OK to chow down on barbecue and hot dogs, however, since properly cooked pork products don’t seem to spread the disease.

Will you avoid fairs this summer because of a flu threat? Tell us in the comments.

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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine |