Spread of variant swine flu unlikely: officials
Health officials say they are monitoring a new kind of swine flu that landed an Ontario man in hospital, but the chances of the virus spreading are slim.
The province confirmed that an Ontario man contracted a strain of the H1N1 virus on Tuesday.
The man, who contracted the flu after having frequent and direct contact with pigs, is being treated in a southwestern Ontario hospital.
The strain affecting him is called variant H1N1, or H1N1v, meaning it’s a strain of H1N1 swine flu that’s made a leap into humans. The term variant is added to flu virus names when viruses that normally circulate among animals cause infections in humans.
Dr. Arlene King, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said the case which was discovered by the province’s health surveillance system is likely an isolated one.
“We know that there have been extensive contact investigations done and we have no infections even within close contacts,” she said.
In an earlier statement King said the chances of variant virus spreading are slim.
“I would like to reassure Ontarians that this variant influenza virus rarely spreads from animals to humans. Subsequent human-to-human transmission is also rare,” King said.
“I would also like to stress that this is not a food safety issue; the consumption of properly cooked pork continues to be safe. Proper cooking of meats, including pork, kills all bacteria and viruses.”
Health Minister Deb Matthews stressed that hand washing and thorough cooking of pork would help protect people.
“It’s very important that people wash their hands,” she said. “This is not something you can get from eating pork, so cook your pork and enjoy it.”
Officials say the fact that the strain was identified so quickly is proof that the province’s surveillance system is working.
“Labs have become more sophisticated since H1N1 to pick out these very new types of virus,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Neil Rau.
Since the strain was identified health officials have been hunting for other cases, but have so far not found any.
Officials say the strain is a distant cousin of the one that caused an H1N1 pandemic in 2009, but not the same one that passed from pigs to humans in the U.S. this past summer.
Some 300 people in the U.S. have been infected by that strain, which is an H3N2-variant. That strain has not been found in Canada.
A man in Missouri was also infected with a H1N1v virus this summer. It’s not known if the Ontario and Missouri viruses are closely related.
King added that hand washing is the best way to prevent infections. She also said Ontarians should be sure to get their flu shot, to protect them from humans strains of flu.
With files from CTV Toronto’s Natalie Johnson and The Canadian Press