Keeping the fair clean and healthy

Visions of funnel cakes and cattle shows dance through the heads of fair-goers, but Ohio officials are urging them to consider what’s on their hands more than what’s on their mind.

At least 11 Ohioans were hospitalized after contracting swine flu at several county fairs last year. By promoting safe hygiene practices, the Trumbull County and Canfield Fairs are hoping to keep themselves off that list.

“With 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,” Dr. Ted Wymyslo, Ohio Department of Health director, said in a statement.

Thomas Sawyer, director of the Trumbull County Fair Board, said they keep signs posted encouraging hand washing and set up hand-washing stations with alcohol-based sanitizers at the fair. He said the sanitizer stations are checked regularly to be sure they remain full.

Additional signs are posted on barns and near the small animal exhibits – such as the rabbit arena – advising visitors not to touch the animals, which may bite.

“Once they’re hurt, it’s too late,” Sawyer said.

He also said the barns are kept clean and vets are always on hand.

“There are vets here all the time. They check the animals when they come in and they check during the week. If someone calls in that an animal looks sick, a director may require the animal needs to be removed,” he said.

Sawyer explained that animals can become sick for various reasons; it is not always due to a virus. For example, animals may not be accustomed to drinking the chlorinated water at the fair, which is different from the typical well water they drink.

Anything from viruses to different water to heat can make the animals sick. If it does, they will be removed, Sawyer said.

The Canfield Fair works in correlation with the Mahoning County District Board of Health to encourage hand washing at the fair by posting fliers near animal exhibits and camping areas. The fliers promote washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and note that alcohol-based sanitizers may not kill all viruses.

Mahoning County Health Commissioner Patt Sweeney said the health board has constant communication with the fair board to ensure those attending the fair and the animals are healthy.

The fair provides portable sinks outside the animal areas and has hand sanitizers located across the grounds, Sweeney said. Her advice for anyone attending the fair: “Practice prevention.”

“You don’t want to catch the flu if you can prevent it, and the best way to do that is to not expose yourself to it,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control said 10 of the swine flu cases were children who attended fairs, while the other was a 61-year-old woman who caught the virus from hogs at the Ross Fair.

Certain individuals – including young children, pregnant women and elderly people- are more prone to catching illnesses that can be transmitted by livestock. Officials said the woman had underlying conditions that led to her death, including heart disease and high blood pressure.

The CDC and Health Department urge these individuals to avoid livestock displays.

Other reminders for keeping healthy at the fair include never eat or touch your mouth in an animal exhibit, leave strollers and children’s toys outside animal exhibits, always wash hands after touching animals and before eating.