Infectious Diseases

This Little Piggy Went to the Doctor

By Michelle Forman, Senior Media Specialist, APHL


I love the county fair – I don’t know what I love the most (it’s the fried Oreos) but I love the fair.  I mean, where can you ride a Ferris wheel, eat an entire meal on a stick, watch piglets run a foot-race and see a giant zucchini all in one place?  Only at the fair.

Unfortunately agricultural fairs around the nation have been sending people home with more than just a smile and some oversized stuffed toys.  Hundreds of people have caught a version of the flu from the pigs at the fair.  This little piggy went to the fair… and caught the flu and gave it to hundreds of people…

So what exactly are we talking about here?  H3N2v is a variant of influenza A.  It is not the swine flu we talked about in 2009 – that was H1N1.  This is a different virus although both started by being transmitted from pigs to humans.  From July 12-August 17 of this year, 224 cases of this flu have been reported with over 90% of the cases occurring in kids.  And because this version of the flu has symptoms similar to seasonal flu, it is likely that many cases have not been reported.

How are people catching H3N2v from pigs?  Pretty much in the same way a person catches seasonal flu from another person.  Most people had direct contact with sick pigs, but it can also be spread in the air after a pig sneezes.  Let’s be honest here, folks.  If I was at the fair with my daughter and a pig sneezed, I would almost definitely think it was adorable and hilarious as would my daughter.  Not anymore!  Just like with people-sneezes, pig-sneezes send infected droplets into the air and onto the railing of their pen or the track at the pig races.  If any of those droplets make their way into your nose or mouth, or even onto your hands and then into your nose or mouth, you could get sick.  (If you are not completely grossed-out at this point and are still reading, kudos to you!)

How do you avoid getting H3N2v?  APHL is not in the business of telling you not to go to your state or county fair.  In fact, CDC isn’t telling people that either.  Go! Enjoy! Eat fried Oreos!  Just be careful.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after being near pigs – not just after touching them, after being in their presence. (That includes the pig races!) If soap and water isn’t available, CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer until you can find soap and water.
  • Do not eat, drink and/or put anything in your mouth while visiting the pigs.  In fact, don’t take any food or drink into the pig barns at all.
  • Don’t take any pacifiers, bottles, sippy cups, toys or anything else a child might put into their mouth into an area where there are pigs.  Leave your stroller with all of your gear outside just to be safe.
  • CDC does recommend that high-risk populations (children under 5 years old, elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, etc.) avoid exposure to pigs altogether.
  • Be a good visitor – avoid the pigs if you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms.  You can give the flu to the pigs too, you know.

Here is some more information from CDC.  Do your community a favor and share it with others.

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