CANFIELD - With local, state and federal health officials closely monitoring the most recent rash of swine flu - and recording the first flu-related death - Canfield Fair officials and participants with precautions, pigs can still be a safe and enjoyable part of everyone's fair experience.
"There's no reason to cancel the hog show or limit access to the pigs. We're just emphasizing basic sanitation. People can pet the pigs," the fair's senior veterinarian, Dr. Doug Wiley, said.
"If we go through the fair and sample everyone, we're going to find a carrier. We know it's here. But unless they get stressed and start shedding the virus, it isn't going to spread,'' Wiley said.
Cariey Barickman, 14, of Salem, a member of the Ellsworth Junior Farmers 4-H club, rubs the ear of her 162-pound blue butt boar Thursday afternoon at the Canfield Fair. All hogs at the fair are checked twice daily for symptoms. Photo by R. Michael Semple
The new H3N2 strain of the swine flu variation of Influenza A has been most common among children younger than 16 who closely handled their swine, he said. The only way for people to contract the virus is to handle the pigs closely and then put their hand directly into their mouth, he said.
On Friday, the State Department of Health said the death of a 61-year-old Ohio woman is the first in the nation associated with the new swine flu strain. The woman, whose identity was not released, was from central Ohio's Madison County and died this week following an illness she contracted after having contact with hogs at the Ross County Fair.
The woman had underlying medical conditions, but the H3N2v influenza virus may have contributed to her death, the department said.
"I'm certainly sorry to hear that has occurred," Wiley said Saturday night, "but it doesn't change my position that the livestock, and the pigs in particular, here at the Canfield Fair are in good shape and don't pose any extra risk. It's gratifying to me to see a large number of people using the hand-wash and sanitation stations."
Wiley said that anyone with any underlying health risks or immune deficiencies would be more likely to have problems at a county fair, especially if they're exposed to something like the swine flu virus.
The Centers for Disease Control website's report for July 12 through Aug. 23 says there have been a total of 276 infections reported in 10 states: Indiana, 138 cases; Ohio, 98; Maryland, 12; Wisconsin, 8; Pennsylvania, 6; Michigan, 5; Illinois, 4; West Virginia, 3; Minnesota, 1; and Hawaii, 1.
The vast majority of cases have resulted from direct swine exposure, but three likely instances of human-to-human transmission have been identified.
At this time no ongoing human-to-human transmission has been identified, the CDC reports.
Wiley said the fair board and local health authorities are monitoring the swine closely and already have an emergency protocol in place in the event that a pig shows symptoms. The pigs would be taken off the fairgrounds immediately to a reserved site.
"We're checking all the pigs twice a day, at least. I think I know each pig personally," Wiley said.
Mahoning County Health Commissioner Patricia Sweeney said her office has said faxes to all local physicians to report any cases immediately, including symptomatic patients who have attended the fair. So far, she said, not one has reported a single case of swine flu.
The fair board has worked with the health department to mount signs reminding people to wash their hands, and banning food in the stables, as well as putting up hand-washing stations outside the barns and hand sanitizer dispensers around the fairgrounds.
Sweeney said that while the number of swine flu cases nationally does continue to creep upward, none have been serious and said it really is not an issue.
"It's no more an issue now than it was 10 years ago when we had no way to identify it. Now we can identify it and we're able to monitor it and it really is not an issue," she said.
At the fair Thursday, Maggie Oblinger, 17, of North Jackson, gave her unnamed pig a good brushing.
"If you just wash your hands after handling the pig, you'll be all right. I'm not too worried," she said.
Oblinger has been raising pigs on the family farm since she was 9.
"As pig owners, we just try to keep our pigs as clean as we can," she said.