'Novel' flu strain found in Weber County

Apr 11 2012 - 1:26pm

OGDEN -- A Weber County resident has tested positive for an unusual strain of influenza that has hospitalized three people in the U.S. and is not included in this year's vaccination.

The virus has been identified in isolated cases across the nation, including West Virginia, Maine, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Indiana. The Weber County resident was not hospitalized and is recovering at home.

The virus, A/H3N2v, was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Utah Department of Health. The strain is genetically similar to those which circulate in pigs, said Weber-Morgan Health Department director, Gary House.

"Fortunately, this individual is getting better," House said of the Weber County resident. "We know there have been 12 other cases within the past year in the United States that have also fully recovered."

House said the health department is working closely with the CDC, the state health department and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to determine how the local resident was exposed to the new strain.

House said as a precaution, those who have been in contact with this person have been advised to watch for fever, cough and other flu-like symptoms.

So far, this seems to be an isolated case and is the only one confirmed in the state, according to the health department.

Health officials called the virus "novel," meaning any case of human infection with influenza A that is different from the currently circulating and predicted strain, said Amy Carter, Weber-Morgan Health Department communicable disease nurse. She said it is common practice to monitor diseases that are capable of transmitting from animals to humans.

"We want to stay as ahead of the game as possible so we can know how to best be prepared," Carter said. "This doesn't mean the strain will be included in next year's vaccination. That is determined by what strains we are dealing with this year and what is circulating worldwide."

Carter said there are no known risks of contracting the virus by eating pork products. The strain in very similar to one that was circulating in the 1990s, Carter said, so people who were vaccinated at that time may have some protection.

Influenza viruses can spread from person to person by an infected individual coughing or sneezing. Sometimes a person can become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it, such as a door knob or railing, and then touching their mouth or nose.

While A/H1N3v is not a major concern right now, there are still things you can do to protect yourself, Carter said. Avoid contact with sick people, cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, wash your hands with soap and water and stay home if you are sick. If you go to the doctor with a cough, ask for a mask to cover your mouth and nose.

People with novel flu are potentially contagious as long as they have symptoms and up to seven days after becoming sick. Younger children can be contagious even longer.

"We learned from the H1N1 experience of 2009 that the public's willingness to follow these simple precautions is the best line of defense," House said.

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