ATLANTA Ė Donít pet the pigs.
Thatís the message that state and county fair visitors got Thursday from federal health officials who reported a five-fold increase in cases of a new strain of swine flu that spreads from pigs to people. Most of the cases are linked to the fairs, where visitors are in close contact with infected pigs.
This flu has mild symptoms, and itís not really spreading from person to person.
ďThis is not a pandemic situation,Ē said Dr. Joseph Bresee of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But any flu can be a risk for some people, and people should be cautious when they can, he added.
The case count jumped from 29 a week ago to 158 this week, as a result of a wave of new cases in Indiana and Ohio, said Bresee, the agencyís chief of influenza epidemiology.
Most of the infected patients are children, probably because many were working closely with raising, displaying and visiting pigs at the agricultural fairs, Bresee said.
The recent cases include at least 113 in Indiana, 30 in Ohio, one in Hawaii and one in Illinois, he said. The count is changing rapidly. Indiana health officials on Thursday afternoon said they had seven more confirmed cases than Bresee noted. Also, diagnosis of cases has become quicker in the last week. The CDC no longer must confirm a case at its own lab. Now states are using CDC test kits to confirm cases on their own, speeding the process along. The newly reported cases were likely infected a week or two ago.
The CDC has been tracking cases since last summer and has raised one concern: The new strain has a gene from the 2009 pandemic strain that might let it spread more easily than pig viruses normally do. The good news is the flu does not seem to be unusually dangerous. Almost all the illnesses have been mild.