By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BERRIEN SPRINGS — With recent reports of a strain of influenza in Michigan fairs, the Board of Directors for the Berrien County Youth Fair are taking a few extra precautions.
To counteract any potential bouts of influenza, the board is limiting swine barn access to exhibitors and two designated adults per family. Fairgoers are also discouraged from eating and drinking in any livestock barn.
The influenza, commonly referred to as “swine flu,” is a common virus found in pig populations. The virus has different strains that can be transferred between pigs and people.
So far this year, three fairs have confirmed a zoonotic strain called H3N2. The Berrien County Youth Fair has yet to see any influenza case this year.
Efforts to reduce the amount of time the public and exhibitors spend in the swine barn comes from recommendations made by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
“This is just a precautionary measure. We don’t have any pigs with swine flu and we vaccinated our pigs,” Fair Manager Karen Klug said in a phone interview. “We’ve really stepped up our biosecurity practices this year at the fair. You will see more cleaning and disinfecting of animal areas and equipment, along with more access to hand cleaning options.”
Those improvements include more handwashing stations, hand wipe locations and access to hand sanitizer.
Symptoms a person infected with influenza range from coughing, sneezing, runny nose and fevers. There is no treatment and the illness should run its course in a few days.
“Finding out that three other fairs had a zoonotic strain of the swine influenza virus made us take notice,” Bruce Foster, fair board president, stated in a news release. “We wanted to make sure that we were taking the right steps to protect the people that come to the fair, our exhibitors and families and the animals that are showcased here.”
The illness is spread through airborne droplets ejected when pigs cough or sneeze.
It takes up to 10 days from exposure to experience illness for this strain of influenza, and most commonly two days.
The first case of influenza in the state this year was identified in two Muskegon County residents who were swine exhibitors at the Muskegon County Fair. A sick pig from the fair, which took place July 25-30, tested positive for H3N2.
“We know that the youth have spent a lot of time raising their pigs for fair this year, that is why we focused on giving the swine exhibitors the ability to show and sell the animals that they have raised this year,” Foster said in a release. “Keeping the health of the exhibitors and the public in mind, we thought that keeping the barn closed to the public this year was a great compromise.”
The fair will provide disinfection areas for exhibitors to use during the week and held an all livestock exhibitor educational meeting prior to the start of the fair.
Fair officials have said it’s important to know influenza does not affect the safety or quality of meat. Influenza cannot be contracted from eating pork or handling pork products.
More information on swine influenza can be found at msue.msu.edu/swineinfluenza.