According to the Daily Mail, H1N1 swine flu "spillovers" have been occasionally observed worldwide in individuals who have had contact with infected pigs. However, the 42-year-old woman from the Brazilian state of Parana had never come into direct contact with pigs – suggesting that she caught the virus from another source.
An investigation found that two individuals in close contact with the woman before she died worked at a nearby pig farm. However, both have tested negative for influenza and have not experienced respiratory symptoms. To date, the source of the woman's infection remains unknown.
Brazilian health authorities found that H1N1 was the virus responsible for the woman's death, and that the pathogen was closely related to previously identified samples of H1N1 in the region. The WHO emphasized that sporadic human infections caused by H1N1 and H1N2 strains have been reported in Brazil, with no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission
"Based on the information currently available, WHO considers this a sporadic case, and there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of this event," the global health body said on June 16. "The likelihood of community-level spread among humans and/or international disease spread through humans is low."
The 42-year-old Brazilian woman died on May 5, two days after being hospitalized. On May 1, she exhibited symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat and abdominal pain. She was admitted on May 3 and transferred to intensive care on May 4, dying the following day.
Health authorities in the South American nation notified the WHO about the case on July 7, following tests that showed the woman's illness being caused by an H1N1 subtype linked to pig infections. However, a spokesperson for the CDC said the U.S. agency had not yet received a specimen from Brazil.
Over in the U.S., swine flu typically jumps from animals to humans, primarily affecting agricultural workers or those attending fairs. Six cases were reported in 2022, with the most recent one occurring in September of that year at a Michigan fairground. The patient reportedly had direct contact with an infected pig.
Since the 2009 swine flu pandemic that claimed the lives of up to 575,000 people worldwide, instances of swine flu infections in humans have been rare. Prior to the Brazilian woman's death, a 37-year-old woman in Vietnam died of the disease in 2019. This prompted authorities in the Southeast Asian nation to quarantine 40 individuals.
According to CBS News, the CDC still conducts extensive studies on sequenced flu viruses each year, comparing their genetic makeup with previous variants affecting animals and humans. Experts in infectious diseases are concerned that future pandemics could arise from flu viruses like H1N1, which pigs can transmit. (Related: The next "pandemic" is already planned: SARS + HIV + H5N1.)
Besides the alarming spread of avian flu among birds throughout the Americas, previous years also witnessed "novel influenza virus infections" when humans came into contact with animals at events such as agricultural fairs.
"Given the severity of illness in the recent human cases, the CDC has also been discussing with partners the feasibility of increasing surveillance efforts among severely ill patients in the ICU during the summer months when seasonal influenza activity is otherwise low," Carrie Reed, a spokesperson for the CDC, stated at a recent webinar with testing laboratories.
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