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Local health district weighs in on recent swine flu cases

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Brianna Orye, 12, of Bentonville, sits in a pen of Hampshire pigs that she and her brother are showing this week at the Warren County Fairgrounds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 12 human infections of swine flu last week, but area health officials are not too worried about that being an issue here. Rich Cooley/Daily

CDC Recommendations

* Wash your hands frequently with soap and running water before and after exposure to animals.
* Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth while in animal areas and don't take food or drink into animal areas.
* Young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems should be extra careful around animals.
* If you have animals -- including swine -- watch them for signs of illness and call a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick.
* Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill, when possible.
* Avoid contact with pigs if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms. If you must come in contact with pigs while you are sick, or if you must come in contact with pigs known or suspected to be infected, or their environment, you should use appropriate protective measures (for example, wear protective clothing, gloves, masks that cover your mouth and nose, and other personal protective equipment) and practice good respiratory and hand hygiene.

Patients who experience influenza-like symptoms following direct or close contact with pigs and who seek medical care should inform their health care provider about the exposure.

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

At least 10 of the 12 cases of swine flu reported recently in the United States have been linked to county fair swine exhibits, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent to issue a warning to fairgoers who may be susceptible to the flu to avoid swine exhibits.

According to the CDC, the most recent cases of swine flu came from Hawaii, Ohio and Indiana, and all infections were a result of direct or indirect contact with swine prior to their illness. The 10 cases linked to fair exhibits were reported in Ohio.

No swine flu cases have been reported yet in Virginia, and Dr. Charles Devine III, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said he believes that residents attending area fairs should not be worried about swine flu.

"This year isn't different from any other year," he said. "Of course, I wouldn't recommend that anyone wrestle with a sick pig. Besides that, people should enjoy the fair as they normally would."

Both fairs in Warren County and Shenandoah County feature 4-H and Future Farmers of America's hog shows, and also offer pig scrambles for youth.

"A person who interacts with a sick pig is liable to get flu, just like they would be if they interacted with a sick person," Devine said. The Virginia Department of Health is taking the reports very seriously, though, and has "tweaked its surveillance" of the illness, he added.

Devine said that like humans, pigs will show symptoms -- coughing or a fever -- of having the flu, in which case they shouldn't be around humans, most specifically those who are more susceptible to contracting the illness.

Both Warren and Shenandoah counties' fairs require swine to be inspected by a veterinarian or swine superintendent at the time of unloading to ensure they are disease-free.

The pig scramble at the Warren County Fair is open to youth ages 5 to 12, while Shenandoah County's is only offered to children ages 3 to 8. The CDC reported that children younger than 5 are at high risk from serious complications if they get influenza, and "should consider avoiding exposure to pigs and swine barns."

Additional studies conducted by the CDC have found that children under the age of 10 have very little immunity against the virus.

The Warren County Fair started this week, and will hold its pig scramble on Saturday. Hog shows will take place Tuesday.

Tammy Henry, who works with the Virginia Cooperative Extension and helps put on the 4-H events like the hog show and pig scramble, said she isn't worried about the recent reports.

"There are sanitation stations set up around the fairgrounds, and we're going to ask that people don't touch the animals to start with," she said. 4-H participants also were informed that they needed to take extra caution in cleaning themselves and their animals, she added.

The pig scramble is still on, and Henry said "there's no fear there," as the animals come from the participants own farms.

"The kids still want their pig," she said. "But it's understandable ... it is a disease," she said of the CDC's report.

Fairgoers filtered in and out of the show barn Monday night, including Wayne and Dana Smith of Warren County. They waited to eat until after seeing some animals, and washed their hands before and after.

"It's a little worrisome," Mr. Smith said of the report. His son participated in the pig scramble several years ago, and Mrs. Smith said if he wanted, he would be be allowed to do it again this year.

"I figure they take good care of the animals and check to see if they're sick," she said. "We'll wash our hands and all that, but if you're gonna' get it, you're gonna' get it."

Tom Eshelman, general manager for the Shenandoah County Fair, said he plans to take precautions after hearing the CDC's report.

"They aren't telling us to cancel anything, they're just making us aware," he said.

However, Eshelman said additional hand sanitizer stations will be installed throughout the barn area. "We may take further steps, but for now we'll continue to monitor the situation and see if anything else goes on. We will always play on the side of caution."

1 Comment

Amazing that mature adults need someone else to decide if their kids should be exposed to pigs or not. If there were any chance of having a sick child: I would be making other plans regardless of what the "authorities" tell me.

But then again, we are in the Lah Lah Land of fast food, "Happy Meals" and processed stuff that's loaded with salt, sugar and fat (and ingredients you can't even pronounce). Yummy!

And no matter how much we hear about the garbage that now passes as food: the masses keep right on coming. THEY do it all 4U2.

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