State and federal officials are investigating the cause of a confirmed variant flu case in an adult Maui resident that may have been transmitted through close work with pigs, the state Department of Health reported Tuesday.
While preliminary findings suggest that the resident may have contracted the H3N2v virus through working closely with pigs, the investigation is continuing in collaboration with the state Department of Agriculture, the department reported.
According to the department, the H3N2v virus has rarely infected humans and has caused only limited human-to-human infection. The small number of previous infections has occurred mostly among children and those who work closely with pigs, such as livestock farmers.
The Maui case surfaced after the resident sought medical attention for symptoms consistent with the regular flu, including fever, cough and body aches. Because the patient's primary care doctor is a participant in the Department of Health's influenzalike illness sentinel network, a respiratory specimen was sent to the state Laboratories Division for testing.
Lab results for H3N2v virus were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last week, the Department of Health reported. The resident has since fully recovered without need for hospitalization.
"Fortunately, we have a robust surveillance network and our state laboratory detected this variant virus and conferred with federal partners," said Health Director Loretta Fuddy.
According to the Department of Health, the H3N2v virus identified in this case shares genetic similarities to variant flu viruses, which have been identified in several other states in the past year.
"The virus seems to be behaving as previously observed in other cases, with illness similar to seasonal flu and with no sustained community transmission," noted state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. "Still, anyone who develops flulike illness within a week after close contact with domestic pigs should see their health care provider."
It's also recommended that children, pregnant women, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems should be especially careful around pigs and practice good hand washing habits. Those who work closely with pigs should take appropriate protective measures, including hand hygiene, personal protective equipment and regular influenza vaccination.
"This particular virus is mainly transmitted through exposure to infected swine and is not transmitted through properly cooked pork," said state veterinarian James Foppoli of the Department of Agriculture.
He said department veterinarians will be taking samples to investigate the status of swine herds potentially associated with the Maui case.
"The total number of human cases of swine-derived influenza virus suggests that viral transmission from swine to humans is extremely uncommon," Foppoli said. "However, as in the past, we continue to emphasize that pig farmers and others having close contact with live swine practice good hygienic measures, such as frequent hand washing."
The CDC reports that so far, the severity of illnesses associated with this virus in people has been similar to the severity of illnesses associated with seasonal flu virus infections.
Additional information about H3N2v virus can be found at www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/influenza-variant-viruses-h3n2v.htm. Information also is available from the Department of Health Disease Outbreak Control Division at hawaii.gov/health/DIB/index.html, and from the Department of Agriculture Animal Disease Control Branch at hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/ldc/ai_ldc.