April 21, 2009 -- Two California children got sick with a mysterious new strain of swine flu -- and the CDC thinks they got the pig virus via person-to-person contact.
Both kids, a 10-year-old boy from San Diego County and a 9-year-old girl from Imperial County, are now well. However, the girl had a 104.3-degree fever before she recovered. And the boy traveled by airplane from San Diego to Dallas while he still had flu symptoms.
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Is this the first sign of a flu pandemic? That's possible, but not likely, says Lyn Finelli, DrPH, chief of flu surveillance at the CDC.
"While we have a low index of suspicion this is a pandemic, we are being careful to rule out any possibility," Finelli says. "We don't know yet."
"We have here detection of two cases of swine flu virus in children. We are trying to figure out where they came from and how serious they are," says Dan Jernigan, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division.
The CDC has dozens of people tracing the children's contacts, beginning with close family members. Each of the children had two family members come down with the flu -- in both cases, one family member had the flu before the child had the flu, and one after.
All recovered, but flu virus was not obtained from any of these family members while they still had symptoms. Over the weekend, the CDC developed a specific test for the new swine flu virus; testing of the children's contacts is now under way. It's likely that the tests will reveal other people who recovered from the infection.
CDC has not activated its Atlanta-based command center. But California has, Finelli says, and is putting all available health care workers on the job of tracking down the children's contacts.
Both children attended school, and California authorities are planning to trace the children's school contacts.
Meanwhile, the 10-year-old boy remains in the Dallas area and has made a full recovery from his one-week symptoms of fever, cough, and vomiting.
So far, the CDC says, Texas health authorities have not found any new infections. The boy traveled to Texas with three other children unaccompanied by adults; crew members who assisted the children are now being tested.
The CDC is withholding the name of the airline that flew the boy and his three companions from San Diego to Dallas on April 3.
Swine flu viruses don't normally infect humans. When they do, it's almost always because of contact with an infected pig. But neither child had any direct contact with pigs.
Moreover, the viruses recovered from the children are not like the swine flu viruses common among pigs. That raises the specter of human-to-human spread of the virus, Finelli says.