New strain of Swine Flu impacting fairs | News

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New strain of Swine Flu impacting fairs
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WINDSOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Fair season is in full swing, with thousands of people reconnecting with their agricultural roots while enjoying plenty of food and fun, but with all the celebration comes a word of warning from public health officials that may sound more like your mother than an urgent health announcement.

"What has been occurring around the country, and especially in the midwest...people associated with fairs with exposure to pigs, they have gotten an influenza illness and when it has been tested, it turns out that it is this swine variant," explained State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears.

"The concern we have is what is going to happen?  Is it going to spread more?  Do we need to be concerned about it, or is this just a small little outbreak that is occurring only around these fairs and is it something that is just going to go away?"

"Everybody should not be afraid about going to fairs," added Dr. Sears.  "The messages we give are the same thing we would do if you were going any place there are animals and there is food and there is potential for exposure, number one is wash your hands before you have contact with animals. Wash your hands afterwards. Don't go directly from the animals to the food, because you can get other diseases."

At the Windsor Fair, hand washing stations have been a staple of their livestock barns and display areas for years.

"There was an incident of E. Coli that occurred in New York several years ago at a fairgrounds, and I think ever since then we have kind of racheted it up and it has made us more aware of something that might happen," explained fair president, Tom Foster.

Foster says he can't recall a single issue at the fair in the forty-plus years he has been helping organize the event.  He says members of the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs meet every year with public health officials to discuss potential problems.

"If there is an animal that we don't feel is quite right, it is removed from the fairgrounds," said Foster. 

"If you have been sick within the past 7 days, you shouldn't attend or go in around the animals," he added.  "The animals are all healthy, they are checked on a daily basis by staff from the Department of Agriculture."

As of August 24th, the Centers for Disease Control had 277 confirmed cases of the H3N2v influenza in 11 states so far this year.   While there have been no cases reported in Maine so far this year, two were reported in the state last year.

Dr. Sears says the majority of people affected by the illness have been children under 5 years of age.

"This does not appear to have human to human transmission, or if it does it is very small," said Dr. Sears.  "And that is really the difference between H1N1 virus that we remember.  That was really highly transmissible person to person and so we saw schools with large numbers of infections.  We saw it spread around the world in a very short period of time.  Right now, this virus, this influenza, appears to only be occurring if you are exposed to pigs."

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