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Officials taking no chances with germs

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GREENFIELD — Officials aren’t taking any chances when it comes to the potential for sick animals at this year’s Hancock County 4-H Fair.

They have implemented some new policies and procedures designed to keep people and animals safer this year after a handful of people became ill with a flu virus traced to fair in 2013.

Among the precautions: All swine entering the fairgrounds must have vaccinations. Also, the hogs won’t be hanging around the fairgrounds for long, either: They’ll be released Monday night, after the Swine Show.

Last year, 403 hogs were exhibited at the fair.

Sarah Burke, 4-H youth educator with Purdue Extension Hancock County, said the measures will build on procedures the fair put in place in 2013.

 “Last year, we took steps to try prevent it,” said Burke, who oversees 4-H programs. “The state board of animal health had issued some steps to take, and we followed a lot of those steps already. But this year, we’ve taken it further.”

According to the Indiana Department of Health, six people in Hancock County became ill with swine flu last year. The cases were diagnosed as the H3N2v strain, a variation of the swine influenza. An additional six cases of swine flu were reported in Grant County.

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health identified 29 pigs from both counties as carriers of the influenza. The cases were linked to the local 4-H fairs: 10 of the 12 individuals contracted the virus at the county fairs, according to the board’s report.

Officials say the measures they have taken this year are designed to keep everyone clean and safe and prevent the spread of the illness.

“We required all 4-H swine to be vaccinated for the influenza,” Burke said. “It’s probably the best we can do to require that.”

Fair officials installed hand-sanitizing stations in the barns last year, and they’ll be available again this year. Veterinarians last year were individually checking the pigs before they were unloaded. That measure will continue this year as well.

“The swine committee will again be walking the barn visually, and we’ll also shorten the amount of time that (the swine) will be at the fair,” Burke said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals who have recently been exposed to pigs should watch for symptoms including sore throat, cough, runny nose, headache and chills. Diarrhea and nausea may occur in children.

The flu cannot be transmitted from human to human. Symptoms can become apparent within one to four days after exposure and can last from two to seven days. Individuals experiencing signs of H3N2v should contact their health-care provider or seek immediate medical attention if symptoms are severe.

“People should always wash their hands with soap and water,” Burke said.

She also recommended not eating food in the swine barn, or in any of the barns at the fair. Burke encouraged visitors to the barns to just use common sense. That, coupled with the preventive measures put in place, has 4-H officials secure in the thought that this year’s fair will be safe for everyone.

“We are confident we’ve taken as many steps as we can to help prevent an outbreak,” Burke said.

The precautions put in place for the swine barn will not transfer to the other animal-related events. Officials are releasing beef and sheep on Wednesday night, and pigs will be released Monday night. That will eliminate mingling among the animals as a preventive measure.

“We’re trying to get the pigs out earlier; they’ll have less time at the fair,” Burke said.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, human infections with H3N2v are rare but have most commonly occurred after close proximity to live infected pigs, such as working with them in barns and livestock exhibits at fairs. Influenza viruses are not transmitted by eating pork and pork products. It is not uncommon for pigs to be infected with swine influenza viruses but not show any signs of illness.

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