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Should The State Fair Swine Barn Close?

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(credit: CBS) Holly Wagner
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Two days before the Minnesota State Fair, a top health expert says the pig barn should be closed.

That’s because a new strain of swine flu has made it to Minnesota.

Doctors think two preschool-aged children from Dakota County caught the bug after visiting a live-animal market with pigs earlier this month.

The younger child has the confirmed case and the older sibling has a probable case.

“I think any fair in the country right now, we should be eliminating human contact with swine,” says Dr. Michael Osterholm, with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

The Minnesota Department of Health is working with State Fair workers to help stop the spread.

“We work very closely and take our direction from the Minnesota Department of Health. And they’re constantly working and talking with the Minnesota Board on Animal Health, also the Minnesota state epidemiologist office and veterinarians at the university, plus the Center for Disease Control,” said Jerry Hammer, Minnesota State Fair general manager.

Veterinarians will be checking the thousand pigs set to arrive at the fair for illness. Signs will be put up, advising everyone who visits the swine barn to wash their hands. The State Fair said they’re also prohibiting food or drinks in the barn and asking those that are sick to stay away from the fair until they feel better.

Dr. Osterholm says that’s not enough.

“Fairs are the ideal mixing location, we couldn’t invent a better place to do it,” he said.

He said in 80 years, they haven’t seen this kind of transmission from animals to people. The concern is, that this strain of swine flu will continue to mutate into a more contagious, more severe form of the flu.

“We’re likely creating a very, very, very serious virus for the future,” he said.

Dr. Osterholm says it’s possibly the next pandemic.

Assistant State Epidemiologist Richard Danila says the state is taking appropriate cautions for the risk involved.

“The CDC tried to put this in perspective,” he said. “There have been probably 80 million visitors to county and state fairs so far this season, yet we’ve only had 230 infections in humans.”

Danila says most of them have been mild cases in children, many who have had prolonged contact with pigs.

“For this virus to mutate into something else it could happen anytime, any place, anywhere, with any virus,” he said.

Dr. Osterholm doesn’t believe the precautions health officials and veterinarians plan to take will make much difference.

He says in their research many of the infected pigs showed no symptoms of being sick.

He says this is transmitted through the air so washing your hands will do little to stop the spread it.

The health department is advising people considered to be at risk to stay out of the swine barn. Those include children five and under, seniors, people with suppressed immune systems or respiratory problems and pregnant women.

“If you are concerned about this at all don’t go to the swine barn,” Hammer said.

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