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Be Safe at the Fair: Swine Flu and Other Diseases Pose a Risk to You and Your Family

Ferris WheelFairs can be a great way to have fun and serve as a distraction from your daily routine.  Even big cities have their own version of home-town “country” fairs, so you don’t have to travel far to get your share of carnival rides, games and deep-fried candy bars (the Minnesota State Fair is a personal favorite!). However, it’s important to remember that these busy gatherings are also a great way to get sick if you don’t practice good hygiene.

In late July, the state of Indiana reported an influenza virus outbreak that occurred at a fair earlier that month.  Twelve swine and four people all tested positive for a new strain of the swine flu.  This particular strain is called influenza A (H3N2), and yes, it has some things in common with H1N1, which caused the swine flu pandemic several years ago. Those numbers have now sky-rocketed, with the latest counts up to over 150 with cases in additional states such as Hawaii, Utah, Illinois and Ohio.

What is Type A Influenza?

Type A influenza often occurs in swine, and even though it’s not common, can transfer to humans . . . and humans can in turn pass it on to other humans or back to swine.  When both humans and swine converge in a busy fair setting, it can be easy to see how the risk of infection greatly increases.
According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE), over 3,200 fairs are held in North America each year with the purpose of showcasing livestock, displaying advancements in horticulture and agriculture, promoting educational activities, and holding various competitions.  Many of these fairs contain at least one exhibit that comprises swine, and it’s not uncommon to come into contact with many swine in different situations – feeding or touching them at a petting zoo, examining them for a contest, or walking by their exhibit as you get to your next destination are just a few examples of how you might come into contact with swine at a fair.  

How Can You Make Sure You’re Safe?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges fairgoers to practice good respiratory and hand hygiene, as it will help prevent the spread of H3N2.  Wash your hands with soap and running water before and after being exposed to animals, and don’t eat or drink anything if you are near an animal enclosure.  If a particular animal looks sick, avoid going near it, and contact a veterinarian or other fair official as soon as possible.  

Many times, however, the animals might not display any sort of symptoms or signs, and can still be carrying Type A influenza.  Even if there are no animals present while you are at a fair, some viral organisms have been found to survive up to 10 days after the animals have left, and can live in the soil for five months!

What Should You Do if You Think You’re Infected?

Any type of flu, including H3N2, tends to affect young children under five years of age and adults over 65 the most; and these age groups, as well as pregnant women, are also at higher risk for developing flu-related complications.  If you begin to have flu-like symptoms and live in an area where strains like H3N2 have been identified, reach out to your health provider and tell them if you’ve had any contact with swine or other people who may have potentially come into contact with swine.  

You can still enjoy your time at the fair without worry of getting sick – you just have to take the right precautions!

Cited Sources

"People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications." CDC.gov. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm>.

"CDC Reports Cases 14-17 of H3N2v Infection; Shares Advice for Safe Fair-Going." CDC.gov. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 July 2012. Web. 1 Aug. 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/flu/spotlights/safe-fair-going.htm>.

"Sharp Spike Seen in Swine Flu Cases: CDC." NIH.gov. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 Aug. 2012. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_128108.html>.

"Users Guide for the “Petting Zoo” Compendium." NASPHV.org. National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc., n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2012. <http://nasphv.org/Documents/AnimalContactCompendiumUsersGuide.pdf>.


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