State fair officials concerned about swine flu

08/14/2012 21:31

USAToday:  An outbreak of swine flu is prompting state and county fair officials in about a dozen states to check pigs for the disease and urge fairgoers to be extra cautious around the animals this summer.


The precautions — including hand-washing stations and warning signs for children, the elderly and expectant mothers — come at the height of the nation's agricultural fair season, when farm children exhibit their livestock for city dwellers and suburbanites to see and even pet.

The number of cases hit 162 Friday, an "extraordinary" increase from 13 swine flu cases for all of last season, says Lyn Finelli, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most of the cases have emerged in the Midwest. Many were reported in children who had contact with pigs at fairs in Indiana and Ohio.

"We expect to continue to see cases as long as fair season continues," Finelli says of the flu strain H3N2v.

•In Indiana, which has a nation-high 129 cases reported, precautions at the state fair running until Sunday include hot-water hand-washing stations near food vendors and dozens of hand-sanitizing stations.

•In Ohio, which has 31 cases reported and 40 county fairs scheduled in the next two months, state agriculture officials are delivering signs urging visitors to wash their hands after petting animals. Members of 4-H or Future Farmers of America are warned not to sleep in pens with their animals.
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•In Kentucky, veterinarians are refusing entry of pigs with symptoms such as coughing, sneezing or labored breathing into the state fair in Louisville, which will start Thursday.

Precautions also are being taken at fairs in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and West Virginia.

The CDC warns people at high risk of the flu, such as those 65 or older, pregnant or with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes, to avoid contact with pigs entirely.

The flu isn't traveling from person to person, and it's safe to eat pork, the CDC says.

The outbreak doesn't appear to have dampened attendance.

Visiting animals remains "very popular," says Andy Klotz, spokesman for the Indiana State Fair. "This is their one chance, for many people, to get up close with barnyard animals."

The Ohio State Fair, which ran from July 25 to Aug. 5, had 804,306 attendees, the second-largest attendance since 2004.

"It's still safe to go to the fair, but we don't touch the pigs this year," says Erica Pitchford of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

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