INDIANAPOLIS - The predominant strain of influenza sweeping through Indiana this year is the same one that caused a nationwide pandemic that resulted in about 40 Indiana deaths in 2009.
But state respiratory epidemiologist Shawn Richards said Monday that this season is different than that outbreak for one chief reason.
"What is different than in 2009 was that this was a novel strain that had not infected humans," Richards said. "Now, we've had a few years around the virus ... Now, it's just considered a typical strain."
The Indiana State Department of Health said earlier this month that H1N1 — more commonly known as swine flu — has caused three deaths this season. The Centers for Disease Control says swine flu is the predominant strain across the nation.
In Indiana, a state health report said more than a third of the suspected flu cases this season have turned out to be swine flu. So far, 288 samples from around the state have been tested, according to the Indiana website.
The strain of swine flu that hit in 2009 caused a wave of cases in the spring and then again in the early fall. But that was considered a unique type of flu, distinct from the conventional strains that circulate every year.
The strain is called "swine flu" because it can be passed from pigs to humans, such as formers and fair exhibitors. The CDC website says humans cannot catch swine flu from eating pork.
So far this season, the flu has been blamed for three deaths in Indiana, compared with 21 last season, which experts say began early.
Health officials recommend anyone 6 months or older be vaccinated for influenza, particularly pregnant women, young children, seniors and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.
Richards said people should use simple health precautions such as washing their hands with soap and warm water, covering their coughs, and staying home when they are sick.
Several inmates with flu-like symptoms were ordered to wear masks when they appeared in court Monday morning to prevent the spread of the disease, the (Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel reported Monday.
Flu symptoms can include headache, fatigue, cough, muscle aches, sore throat and 100-degree fever.