As state officials continue investigating the recent swine flu outbreak in southwest Ohio, local health experts are advising area residents to use caution when coming into contact with pigs - especially during the remainder of the summer fair season.
Debbie Mokosh, director of nursing at the Trumbull County Health Department in Warren, said county fair enthusiasts don't need to avoid going to local county fairs.
"We just want them to be careful and take precautions when visiting the animals," she explained.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that more 40 people linked to the Butler County Fair exhibited symptoms associated with swine flu.
As of Thursday, at least nine of those were confirmed cases of the H3N2 variant flu virus. Ohio Department of Health spokesman Robert Jennings said it's possible more people may be tested as local health officials gather additional information. The strain matches the virus that infected several people recently at an Indiana fair
Mokosh said individuals older than 65, children younger than 5, pregnant women and anyone with a health issue such as diabetes should avoid animal areas, especially the pig barns.
Although no reports of swine flu emerged from last month's Trumbull County Fair, Mokosh said there is concern that the virus could be spreading from southwest Ohio to local fairs and events.
The Ohio State Fair and Columbiana County Fair continue through Sunday, and Canfield Fair and Geauga County Fair open the end of this month.
"We know some people go from here to various county fairs in the state," Mokosh said. "The goal is to avoid contracting the flu and obviously, spreading it."
Symptoms include cough, sore throat, fever, body aches and possible nausea and diarrhea. Health experts said the virus can be passed from swine to humans and humans to swine the same way viruses can be transmitted between people. Swine exhibit the same symptoms as people.
Health officials are also advising care when visiting petting zoos, carnivals or other events with animals.
"We don't want people to get upset, especially fair people, but we're asking people to be careful, use precautions and make sure they wash their hands after visiting the pig barns and avoid eating in the animal areas," she said.
Meanwhile, fair organizers across the state are asking visitors to use the hand sanitizer available in livestock barns.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.