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Media Myths on trH3N2 Washington County Fair Cluster
Recombinomics Commentary 18:00
September 6, 2011

"I don't think these [viruses] have pandemic potential; it looks like both of these are sort of dead-end transmissions," Lyn Finelli, DrPH, chief of the surveillance and outbreak response team in the CDC's influenza division, told CIDRAP News.

Don't panic, though: CDC officials say that this is a rare occurrence and that the virus is not at all likely to spread.

"It’s a biological freak. It is not a harbinger of things to come," said Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The above media report comments in response to the CDC’s early release MMWR downplay the significance of the reports of trH3N2 cases in Indiana and Pennsylvania.  The two cases cited in Friday’s MMWR were followed by a Monday press release from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, noting two additional Washington Country cases who had also attended the fair the week of August 13.  These two patients were still recovering more than two weeks after the fair ended, and at least one media report indicated they were hospitalized.  The two patients described in the MMWR were identified from samples collected during Emergency Department visits.

The fair cluster in Pennsylvania is the largest to date for confirmed trH3N2 cases, and the investigation is still ongoing.  There has been no evidence presented linking the three children to each other.  The first case (2F) described was at the fair for one day (August 16) and lives in eastern Pennsylvania (Schuylkill County).  No detail has been provide for the other two cases, but it is likely that the three infections represent independent events, signaling efficient transmission.  All three cases, as well as the case in Indiana, involved trH3N2 that had acquired a pandemic H1N1 M gene, which is critical for aerosol transmission.  These developments suggest that a large number of unreported infections were linked to the fair, although linkage to swine has not been cited, and no symptomatic or lab confirmed swine case has been cited.  Moreover, the only trH3N2 cases with the constellation of genes were seen in the four recent cases have not been reported in prior cases or swine, signaling a new development.

Therefore, the comments cited above are little more than wishful thinking, propagated by the associated agencies and media reporters.

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