South Carolina health officials are taking advantage of publicity about a new strain of swine flu that sickened hundreds of people in Indiana and Ohio this summer to remind people to take precautions while visiting livestock exhibitions.
Avoid petting pigs in those exhibitions, and wash your hands after touching any livestock or their enclosures.
The S.C. State Fair, which opens Wednesday, includes the largest of the dozens of public livestock shows in the state. The State Fair for years has posted warning signs in livestock enclosures about the danger of disease transmission, and hand-washing stations popped up in the barns a few years ago during the last swine flu scare.
“We have always been very concerned about hand washing in our animal exhibit, and that will continue,” said fair director Gary Goodman.
Visitors also shouldn’t eat or drink in animal areas, according to health officials. Signs at the State Fair warn visitors not to take food or drinks into animal areas.
Humans and pigs both have flu viruses, and usually they don’t affect the other species. But every once in a while a variant develops that can jump from pigs to humans or humans to pigs. A H3N2 variant that popped up last year in pigs began moving to humans this year.
Symptoms in people have been mild, and the variant hasn’t jumped easily from person to person. Spread has been limited to people who have had direct contact with infected pigs. About 305 cases have been confirmed in 10 states, none in the Southeast, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Safety precautions failed to prevent transmission from pigs to people in the Midwest this summer. But South Carolina is in a better situation than states such as Indiana and Ohio, where county or district shows have hundreds of pigs and state fairs have thousands.
“We do have the potential (for flu transmission), but on a completely different scale,” said S.C. state veterinarian Dr. Boyd Parr.
The smaller fairs that exhibit swine in South Carolina often have fewer than a dozen, and the S.C. State Fair will have about 50 in its extended show, Parr said. More come in for a one-day event when 4-H competitors sell their pigs, but those leave quickly.