Swine show will go on at Minnesota State FairState and federal officials gave the green light Tuesday for swine exhibits to go forward at this week's fair, expressing confidence that sufficient precautions are in place to prevent the spread of a new strain of swine flu from pigs to fair visitors.
By: Steve Karnowski, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — The swine show will go on at the Minnesota State Fair.
State and federal officials gave the green light Tuesday for swine exhibits to go forward at this week's fair, expressing confidence that sufficient precautions are in place to prevent the spread of a new strain of swine flu from pigs to fair visitors.
Deputy State Epidemiologist Richard Danila said officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that probably more than 80 million people have visited state and county fairs nationwide this year, leading to countless interactions between people and pigs. But the CDC has recorded only about 250 cases of the new flu strain in humans nationwide so far, and most of them were in swine exhibitors or other people who had been in prolonged contact with pigs.
"The risk to someone walking through a swine barn looks extremely low," Danila said.
University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm had called for officials to cancel the swine exhibits at the fair, which opens Thursday. He has expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the fair's planned precautions and concern that increased transmission of the virus between pigs and humans could raise the chance of it mutating into a more virulent strain.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported the state's first confirmed case of the new flu strain, a child who had visited a live animal market in Dakota County on Aug. 10. A sibling who exhibited similar symptoms is considered a probable case. Neither became sick enough to require hospitalization, and the department said they're both recovering.
Experts say the new strain, known as variant H3N2 (H3N2v), seems relatively mild, usually no worse than recent strains of the seasonal flu. Most cases so far were transmitted from pigs to humans, with only a few from person-to-person. And they say there's no food safety risk — there's no evidence you can get it by eating pork. However, this year's regular seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against H3N2v.
Two people are thought to have contracted the disease during the Aug. 1-11 Wisconsin State Fair, but Danila said both were cases of people who had prolonged contact with swine there.
Minnesota State Fair veterinarians were already planning to examine all swine arriving at the fair for any signs of infection. Sick pigs will be denied entry. Veterinarians will also closely monitor swine while they're at the fair, and send home any that develop signs of illness. Exhibitors have already been sent letters warning them of the potential risks, and of precautions they should take. The safeguards include frequent hand washing with soap and water and refraining from eating or smoking in the swine barns, Danila said.
Danila also said the signs in the livestock areas will be tweaked to reflect the heightened concern, warning people in the highest risk groups — the very young, the elderly and people with health problems that impair their immune systems — to stay out of the barns. All visitors should avoid touching the pigs, he said.
"We think the measures we're taking are proportional to the risk," Danila said.
But the health department will remain in constant contact with state fair officials and will closely monitor the situation day by day for any uptick in cases among animals or people in case it becomes necessary to reconsider the decision to let the swine show proceed, he said
"I can't say what would be out tipping point. We're just going to see what happens," he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.