Swine flu strain makes first jump to person in Canada

Alberta reports 'one isolated case' in central region

Seasonal flu shots are recommended to help limit spread of flu viruses between people and livestock. (Inside Creative House/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Further risk to people is believed to be low after a person in central Alberta was confirmed to have caught a variant of H1N2 swine flu, in the first case of its kind in Canada.

The virus was spotted in mid-October after a patient sought medical care with “influenza-like symptoms,” provincial chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw and chief provincial veterinarian Dr. Keith Lehman said in a statement Wednesday.

The patient, they said, “experienced mild symptoms, was tested and then quickly recovered,” and there’s “no evidence at this time” that the virus spread further in people beyond the one person.

However, they said, the province’s health and agriculture departments have now launched an investigation “to determine the source of the virus and to verify that no spread occurred.”

In hogs, H1N2 influenza is a provincially notifiable disease, meaning veterinarians must report suspected or confirmed cases to the province within 24 hours.

The virus shows up in hogs as an infectious respiratory disease, symptoms of which can include fever, coughing/barking, sneezing, breathing difficulty, red or inflamed eyes and loss of appetite — though officials noted some infected hogs may not show any signs of illness at all.

People can become infected if they inhale “respiratory droplets” spread when an infected pig coughs or sneezes, according to Health Canada. A person can also be infected by touching an object with the virus on it, then touching his or her own mouth or nose.

H1N2 is not a food-related illness, officials emphasized; it’s not transmissible to people through products made from pigs, and there is “no risk associated with eating pork.”

“We are taking this seriously, but Albertans should know that sporadic cases of variant influenza have been reported over the past decade in North America,” Hinshaw and Lehman said.

The influenza A (H1N2) variant in people is rare, they said, with only 27 cases reported anywhere in the world since 2005, and “no cases in Canada prior to this one.”

Of those 26 other cases, two were in Brazil and 24 were in the U.S., Health Canada said, also noting there’s “no evidence of sustained person-to-person spread.”

Among the more recent U.S. cases, three people are believed to have contracted an H1N2 variant with the pandemic M gene from the 2009 H1N1 virus while exhibiting or spending time around pigs at the Minnesota State Fair in 2012.

Of the three, two had underlying health conditions for high risk of serious flu complications, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. All three later recovered.

In people, infections with H1N2v usually lead to “mild” respiratory illness, with symptoms similar to those seen with seasonal influenza, the province said. Most people recover from the flu within a week or 10 days, but some are at risk for more severe complications, such as pneumonia.

Farmers, farm workers, farm family members and others in contact with pigs should protect themselves from animal-related influenzas by frequent handwashing, the province said.

Anyone working with hogs should also avoid close contact with pigs that look or act ill, and “take protective measures if they must come in contact with pigs that are known or suspected to be sick,” including personal protective equipment such as protective clothing, gloves and masks that cover the mouth and nose.

People who develop flu-like symptoms in those cases should avoid further contact with livestock, particularly sick animals, and should also contact their doctor.

Livestock producers are also advised to follow basic biosecurity measures, including controlling movements of people, animals and equipment on the farm, observing animals daily for signs of disease, and calling a veterinarian if animals appear sick.

People working in food production or in “agricultural settings” should also get a seasonal flu shot each year, Health Canada said, as it can help reduce the spread of flu viruses between people and animals.

The Alberta H1N2v case has also been reported to the World Health Organization, as per international health regulations, Health Canada said Wednesday. –– Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.


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