By Carol Moehrle
County and state fairs are active events across our country. If you are taking your students on a field trip to the fair, or are attending one on your own, here are some things to consider: According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) pigs are commonly infected with swine influenza (swine flu) viruses that are usually different from human influenza viruses. While rare, influenza can spread from pigs to people and from people to pigs. When people get swine flu, it's usually after contact with pigs. This has happened in different settings, including fairs. Right now CDC is concerned about a new influenza virus that has been found in U.S., pigs and has infected people too. This virus is called H3N2v when it infects people.
As of August 17th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced 225 cases of H3N2v infection from a new strain of swine flu. Cases have been reported in Hawaii, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois. Most cases have been mild and generally involve children. No deaths have been reported as a result of H3N2v. This influenza is not spread through the eating of pork, but rather from touching or being around pigs that are sick.
What to do:
Use common sense when attending fairs. Vulnerable groups like the young, the elderly, pregnant women and patients suffering from long-term illness may want to avoid visiting animal displays, including pigs.
The best prevention is to wash your hands after being near pigs or touching the animals, and never eat in the animal barns. There is no reason to stay away from fairs, but be aware and take precautions if you attend.
Check out this great CDC poster about hand washing when leaving animal exhibits:
Here is more information about influenza virus infections in pigs.