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Sunday, October 23, 2011

N.H. keeping eye out after flu passes from pig to child in Maine

New Hampshire residents who work with pigs are being cautioned to keep an eye out for flu-like symptoms after a Maine child became sick from “novel influenza virus.”

The child had contact with pigs, “including time spent in a closed setting at an agricultural fair,” public health officials said.

The child became sick earlier this month. So far, officials said Friday, the case of the child in Cumberland County, Maine, “is an isolated event.” They said Maine “is not aware of any person-to-person transmission.”

Public health officials have long feared a new, dangerous strain of influenza would be bred in animals and passed to people, where it would have the ability to spread throughout the human population in a manner similar to the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic.

That concern explains the enormous publicity and reaction to the so-called “swine flu” scare of 2009, which petered out when the H1N1 strain proved less dangerous than feared.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and federal health authorities are investigation the latest case, which is unusual, although not unique.

Since 2005, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, there have been 26 cases of flu virus passing from pigs to people.

None of those cases have resulted in disease that passes from people to other people.

“Swine-origin influenza is rare in humans, but veterinarians should remind owners and those who work closely with swine to watch for symptoms of ILI (influenza-like illness) in themselves and their families,” said the announcement from Maine, which was passed on to New Hampshire veterinarians on Thursday.

“Any person with ILI, defined as fever greater than 100 degrees with cough or sore throat, should contact their primary care provider for follow-up.”

Influenza can have a variety of signatures, differentiated by the letters H and N, which stand for different proteins on the surface of the virus. There are 16 types of H (hemagglutinin) and nine types of N (neuramidinase), meaning up to 1,454 strains of flu can exist, which is why tracking and vaccinating for the disease is difficult.

Officials said the influenza in the Maine case “is similar to rare human infections with swine-origin H3N2 viruses, but it also contains a genetic component of the pandemic H1N1 virus.

“This is genetically similar to four previous cases identified in the United States this year, three in Pennsylvania and one in Indiana, all of which had exposure to swine.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or