In spite of reports of people becoming ill with the flu after visiting the Ohio State and county fairs, you can still go to the fair and enjoy the animal exhibits.
The Fulton County Fair runs Aug. 31 through Sept. 6. The Henry County Fair is underway; the last day is tomorrow, Thursday.
Officials from several agencies say a few simple precautions prevent illness.
Number one on the list: wash your hands with soap and water after visiting the animal barns and exhibits.
“Hand-washing is the critical part,” said Jill Stechschulte, Fulton County 4-H extension advisor.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water aren’t readily available, but Tessie Pollock, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health, said soap and water is preferred.
“You may have organic matter on your hands,” she said.
To help, Carl Buehrer, president of the Fulton County Fair Board, said each year the board sets up handwashing stations around the animal barns.
•Don’t touch hands to your eyes, nose, or mouth while in the animal areas.
•Never eat, drink, or put things in your mouth in animal areas.
•Older adults, pregnant women, young children, and people with weakened immune systems should be extra careful around animals.
•Persons who are ill should avoid animal exhibits, not only to protect themselves, but also to avoid passing anything to the animals.
In a press release, the Fulton County Health Department said the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, commonly known as the CDC, have confirmed a case of A-Type influenza of the H3N2v strain in the state.
The virus can pass from pigs to people, and from people to pigs.
Pollock said before the summer months, the CDC documented a limited number of cases of the virus being passed from person to person.
“We’re watching for that,” she said.
As of Monday afternoon, the ODH website confirmed 47 cases of influenza caused by the H3N2v virus.
In Indiana, there were over 100 cases.
Pollock said most of the persons who became ill were younger, from six months to 36 years old.
Most of those who became ill had close contact with pigs. In some cases, youths in 4-H programs have been known to sleep with their fair animals, possibly confi rming the close-contact theory.
“The cases we have seen have been mild; nothing more than normal, seasonal flu. They have recovered either on their own, or after taking anti-viral drugs,” she said.
The ODH website said two persons with the flu were hospitalized “as a precaution,” and both have since been released.
By comparison, the H1N1 virus outbreak of two years ago was much more serious, Pollock said.
“It was a more aggressive virus, and it passed easily from human to human,” she said.
Animal health has always been an issue at county fairs.
Stechschulte said as animals are brought into the fairgrounds, they are met by a veterinarian at the gate and given a cursory inspection.
The next morning, the vet visits the animal barns. Stechschulte said the vet has the authority to send any sick animal home, or to order an animal to be sent directly to slaughter.
Pollock said during the Ohio State Fair, two sick animals were sent home.
Buehrer said most swine at the Fulton County Fair are 4- H animals.
“What comes to the fair goes to market,” he said.
Buehrer said he had been contacted by the ODH, the Ohio Fair Managers Association, the state veterinarian, and a national swine producers organization– all talking about the influenza issue.
“We were doing almost all of what they recommended anyhow,” he said.
Expect to see more signs posted by the fair board urging hand-washing and other precautions, Stechschulte and Buehrer said.
“This isn’t anything new,” said Mike Oricko, Fulton County health commissioner.
“There is always the potential to pass flu back and forth between people and animals. It has happened in the past, and we are aware it’s going on.”
For now, Oricko called the H3N2v situation “an awareness issue.
“We know something is going on. It’s not happening in our area. We need to take common, sensible precautions,” he said.
One thing everyone agreed on: you will not catch the flu from eating pork.
“Influenza viruses cannot be transmitted by eating pork or pork products,” the Fulton County Health Department press release states.