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Ontario man ill with H1N1 flu 'variant'

File photo. REX FEATURES/TIM SCRIVENER

A case of H1N1 “variant” has been reported in the province, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said Tuesday. A man fell ill after being in close contact with pigs, Dr. Arlene King said, and is being monitored in hospital.

“An Ontario resident has been confirmed as having been infected with an H1N1 variant (H1N1v) influenza virus. An influenza virus that normally circulates in animals is referred to as a variant virus when it infects humans,” King said in a statement.

The man is currently in hospital in southwestern Ontario, in critical but stable condition.

“I would like to reassure Ontarians that this variant influenza virus rarely spreads from animals to humans. Subsequent human-to-human transmission is also rare,” King said.

There have been several human cases of variant influenza viruses in the United States, King said, and the local case “is not an unexpected occurrence.” This strain is different than those reported south of the border.

Food safety isn’t an issue, she added, and while the consumption of pork is safe, King stressed the importance of properly cooking meats to kill bacteria and viruses. King is also reminding Ontarians about the importance of hand washing for reduced flu risk and urged everyone to get the seasonal flu shot once it becomes available.

Officials also said the variant is not the swine flu virus that has been jumping from pigs to people in the United States this summer.

That virus, an H3N2-variant, has caused 305 infections this year in the U.S. but has not been spotted in Canada to date. Most infections with the H3N2-variant flu have been in people who visited pig barns at state and county fairs.

The term variant is added to flu virus names when viruses that normally circulate in animals cause infections in humans. In written form it is often shortened to a “v” at the end of the virus’s name.

This H1N1v virus would be a distant cousin of the H1N1 viruses that have been circulating in people for most of the last century. That family includes the virus that cause the 2009 pandemic.

With files from Helen Branswell, The Canadian Press