ATLANTA — Don't pet the pigs.
That's the message state and county fair visitors got Thursday from health officials who reported a five-fold increase of 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 it's not really spreading from person to person.
"This is not a pandemic situation," said Dr. Joseph Bresee of the 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, thanks to a wave of new cases in Indiana and Ohio, said Bresee, the agency's 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 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 almost all of the illnesses have been mild and no one has died.
More good news is that all of the recent cases appear to have spread from pigs to humans, meaning it's not very contagious, at least between people. But there probably will be more cases in the weeks ahead, and it won't be surprising if at least a few of them involve person-to-person transmission, Bresee said.