Swine flu detection prompts reminder about good hygiene at fairs

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(Farm and Dairy file photo) Photo by Kurt Stepnitz/Michigan State University

Update: (As of Aug. 19, the Canfield Fair, to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 5, will remove all hogs from the fairgrounds at the closing of the fair Sept. 1, following the judging and auctions. The decision was reached after careful consideration and discussions with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture, the State Veterinarian and the Canfield Fair Veterinarian.)

SALEM, Ohio — A strain of swine influenza has been showing up in some pigs at county fairs in Ohio — but officials say it’s actually common in swine — and has not yet affected humans.

Ohio’s state veterinarian, Tony Forshey, said H3N2 has been detected in pigs at the Clark and Madison County fairs, and most recently at the Ashtabula County fair, held Aug. 9-14.
Forshey said this virus “is very common in swine in Ohio and all across the country,” and that swine often carry it without becoming sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the H3N2 that affects pigs rarely affects humans, and is “very different” than human seasonal H3N2.

Forshey said the strain of flu that has recently been reported in some humans, was not the same virus as found in the hogs.

In Ashtabula County, as with many other fairs this summer — the heat and humidity have caused stress for livestock and fairgoers alike — affecting health and well-being.

Hot and humid

David Marrison, OSU Extension director in Ashtabula County, said the elements combined for “a perfect storm” for animals and even some humans to become ill.

Marrison said at least three pigs were sent home early, and the fairboard and state officials worked to keep the remaining hogs cool — by leaving them in their pens during the auction — and not loading them until nighttime, after temperatures declined.

The Ashtabula pigs were examined by Fair Veterinarian Cheryl Beinhardt. The ones that remained were treated with aspirin, to bring down their fevers. Testing for swine flu was done through ODA, in consultation with the local USDA veterinary medical officer.

Protecting pigs

Marrison said the pigs still sold very well, and the buyers will get their meat, because the flu virus does not affect cooked meat. He credited everyone at the fair for taking appropriate action.

“We didn’t lose any pigs the whole week, because of the safeguards that the fairboard took,” he said.

As county fairs continue, Marrison and forshey advise fairgoers to follow some important protocols to protect themselves, and the animals.

The following tips were provided by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Health:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and running water before and after exposure to animals.
  • Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth in animal areas, and don’t take food or drink into animal areas.
  • Children younger than 5 years, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions) are at high risk from serious complications if they get influenza. These people should avoid exposure to pigs and swine barns during this fair season.
  • Visitors should not carry toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar items into areas with pigs.
  • Young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems should be extra careful around animals.
  • If you have animals – including swine – watch them for signs of illness and call a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick.
  • Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill, when possible.
  • Avoid contact with swine if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms. If you must come in contact with swine while you are sick, or if you must come in contact with swine known or
    suspected to be infected, or their environment, you should use appropriate protective measures (for example, wear protective clothing, gloves, masks that cover your mouth and nose, and other personal protective equipment) and practice good respiratory and hand hygiene.

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Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.

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