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Swine flu? The plague? What's up in San Diego?

April 22, 2009 |  4:25 pm

Squirrel

Tony Perry reported today that a 9-year-old girl in Imperial County and a 10-year-old boy in San Diego County both were identified as having swine flu. Luckily, neither child needed hospitalization and both have recovered. Health officials, however, are puzzled and looking for the source of the infection.

What is the swine flu, you ask?

Just like human beings, pigs get influenza. Swine flu refers to four different types of flu strains that circulate among pigs. Under normal conditions, typically humans don’t contract swine flu. Unless, of course, they have direct contact with pigs.

Historically, the swine flu epidemic of 1918 hit the U.S., killing more than 500,000 that year. In 1976, the U.S. was scared again by swine flu. A national vaccination program was launched and fewer people died. In 2007, in the Philippines, the National Meat Inspection Service raised a red alert warning over hog cholera.

(Here’s a Q&A from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in case you can’t get enough facts about the swine flu.)

This afternoon, we learned that the plague has hit squirrels on Palomar Mountain. Although chances of human infection are slight, officials are warning campers to take precautions.

The plague, in this case, refers to a bacterial disease found in wild rodents. The disease can be passed to humans via the bite of an infected flea. At the moment, no human cases of the plague have been reported.

Here are some tips to prevent contact with fleas, and how to protect yourself and your pets from the plague.

Oddly, both of these diseases have hit in or near San Diego. A strange coincidence? Perhaps.

Until there are more answers, the take home lesson is: don’t play with pigs and avoid squirrels like the plague.

-- Lori Kozlowski

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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