FARMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) – Government health leaders have a message for people planning to visit a county or state fair: be careful if you pet the pigs.
The Centers for Disease Control says it’s seeing a big jump in swine flu cases. Most are in children who’ve recently been to a fair.
Over the last month, 120 cases have been reported in Indiana, 31 in Ohio, and one each in Illinois and Hawaii.
The new strain, called H3N2v, isn’t unusually dangerous, and there have been zero reported fatalities thus far, but health officials fear more cases are on the horizon.
At the Dakota County Fair in Farmington, most people are not familiar with the new strain.
But the 4-H community is aware. In swine shows, they judge on the appearance and quality of the pigs.
And they stress vital importance of handwashing.
In fact, those hosting the Dakota County Fair say they feel confident that “most” people already know this is protocol after leaving the barnyard.
Wayne Bollum, vice president of the Dakota County Agriculture Society, says plans are in place.
“We think that we’re prepared to protect the public safety. We already have plans to put wash stations outside of every livestock barn,” said Bollum.
Attendance here at the Dakota County Fair hasn’t been affected by news of the new strain, although according to state epidemiologist Richard Danila, the new strain is already likely in the Land of Lakes.
“We think we probably have this virus circulating in pigs in Minnesota,” said Danila.
H3N2v spreads from pigs to humans. After a person is exposed to an infected pig,
“They’ll develop flu-like symptoms – that is headache, fever, aches, chills, coughing,” he said.
The good news is that this strain seems to be milder. And there are things you can do to protect yourself. When you leave a petting barn, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly.
Secondly, don’t eat food while you are in the barn.
And those with compromised immune systems, like children, the elderly and pregnant women should take extra caution.
The Dakota County Fair runs through this Sunday. Officials with the Minnesota State Fair say there are already precautions being put into place.
For one, veterinarians will be out looking for pigs that show symptoms. They will also have plenty of educational signage.
And all vendors will be given up-to-date information about how to help prevent the spread of H3N2v.