By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When it comes to county fairs, no two are alike. But all 88 fairs in Ohio will share one theme this year – good hygiene.
Last year, Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) officials scrambled as they linked nine illnesses at several county fairs in the state to a strain of swine flu. It was determined that illnesses at these fairs matched the virus that infected some fair-goers in neighboring states, including four people at an Indiana fair.
When the fair season had ended, up to 41 people, nearly all of them children, became sick with symptoms like those of a swine flu strain. Two pigs from the Ohio State Fair were sent home because they had the virus.
“With the fair season upon us, we want to remind folks that some illnesses, such as influenza viruses, are commonly carried by livestock and can be directly transmitted between animals and humans in the same way those illnesses are often transmitted between people,” said ODH Director Dr. Ted Wymslo.
He added a trip to the county fair can be a safe one, with good hygiene in mind. “Individuals should always wash hands with soap and water before and after petting or touching any animal,” he said.
Wymslo also advises against eating, drinking or putting anything in one’s mouth when visiting animal areas. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to leave strollers outside the animal exhibits and carry small children. Older adults, pregnant women, young children and people with weakened immune systems should consider avoiding animal areas.
No deaths occurred from the flu outbreak, officials say, thanks to immediate action by fair officials. Upon hearing of the problems at other fairs, those in Wood County took immediate action.
“We immediately put together a fact sheet for those fair officials,” said Brad Espen, director of environmental services at the Wood County Health Department. “The fact sheet listed some common-sense precautions, such has washing of the hands and not consuming food around the animals.
“It’s important to note that fairs are safe, and swine flu can’t be contracted by consuming pork products.”
Influenza viruses such as H3N2 and its variants are not unusual in swine and can be directly transmitted from them to people and from people to swine, in the same way all viruses can be transmitted between people. Swine that are sick with influenza will get over the illness.
Swine flu symptoms include cough, sore throat, fever and body aches and possibly nausea and diarrhea.
“For some, visiting the barns at the local fair is one of the most important ways to teach young people about where their food comes from,” said ODA Director David Daniels. “By taking some common-sense precautions, we can ensure that visiting your local agricultural fair remains a fun, safe and wholesome educational activity for the entire family.”
Paulding County kicked off the Ohio fair season with its June 10 opening day, and the season ends with the Fairfield County Fair, Oct. 6-12.