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Swine flu makes appearance in Western Pennsylvania

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Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011

Health officials are warning the public about several cases of swine flu that have appeared in Western Pennsylvania and seeking anyone who may have had contact with the virus.

"This may be just a few cases, and it may be nothing," said Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. "We wanted to get the message out to the public as soon as possible that they should report the symptoms to us."

Three children who attended the Washington County Agriculture Fair last month contracted a rare form of swine flu, but it's unclear if that's where they caught the virus.

"We're not saying don't go to fairs or public venues," said Cronkright, who added that no cases of human-to-human infection have been identified. "Did they contract it at the fair• We don't know that yet. That's the one common link among all of them."

The first child became ill on Aug. 20 and has recovered. The other two, confirmed sick during the weekend, are recovering, according to a news release Monday from the health department. The cases are unique because they contain a component of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, that caused a 2009 pandemic.

The state Department of Agriculture monitors the health of animals at all exhibitions, spokeswoman Samantha Krepps said. She said no animals at the Washington fair were reported as ill or showed flu symptoms.

"We have health requirements for animals entered into fairs," she said.

Jeff Lash, vice president of the Washington County Fair Board, said he believes the fair isn't at fault.

"Nothing was found at our fair that caused any of these problems," he said.

The first case of the new virus in Pennsylvania was a girl younger than 5 who had contact with pigs at the Washington County fair, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state isn't releasing information about the other two children.

A child in Indiana state was sickened in July by the same virus, but it is unrelated to the cases here, the CDC said.

The new strain is a hybrid of viruses that have infected pigs over the past decade and a gene from the H1N1 strain that caused the pandemic two years ago. It's classified as an H3N2 virus. The current flu vaccine contains an antigen for H1N1, but is not effective against the new virus, according to the CDC.

The first child infected in Pennsylvania and the child in Indiana both had received flu shots.

The gene from the pandemic is one of the things that makes the new strain worrisome, because it appears it is important for transmission from person to person, said Dr. John Treanor, a flu specialist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

"That's why we're taking a very close look at this," Cronkright said.

During the pandemic, nearly 2,000 swine flu cases had been confirmed by December 2009 in Western Pennsylvania and at least 18 people died. Most recently, a paramedic and dispatcher with a Fayette County ambulance service died in February from H1N1.

Anyone who attended the Washington County Agriculture Fair, which took place from Aug. 13-20, and has flulike symptoms is asked to call 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

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