State Fair pig barn will stay openPublished 10:55am Wednesday, August 22, 2012
For now, the hog show is on at the Minnesota State Fair.
Although a prominent public health expert said Tuesday he’d like to see pigs banned from the State Fair and other public gatherings over concerns about swine flu, fair and health officials say the pig barn will be open when the fair opens Thursday.
The Otter Tail County 4-H will have 13 pigs shown at the State Fair, including one belonging to James Holen.
“(Pigs) are all I show,” he said. “I don’t really care much about the chickens. It’s the pigs I work the most on, and if they weren’t there, I wouldn’t care much about 4-H.”
Pigs are Holen’s favorite animal to show because they require a lot of work and dedication.
“You have to walk them and get them ready so they aren’t running around,” he said.
Holen said he thinks people will be just fine if they keep their hands away from pigs’ mouths, wash their hands frequently and use the hand sanitizer provided.
Veterinarians will keep a watchful eye out for sick pigs, and exhibitors have been told to speak up immediately if they or their animal is ill, said deputy state epidemiologist Richard Danila.
Health experts also said children under 5, people over 65, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems should stay away from the pigs. Visitors may also be asked not to touch pigs.
At this point, Minnesota has reported one confirmed case of the swine flu and another suspected case.
Former state epidemiologist Michael Osterholm told MPR News Tuesday he worries the swine flu could grow more virulent —- and even deadly — if it passes too often between pigs and people.
“What we’re very concerned about here is that with repeated transmissions that occur from pigs to people . . . that is a perfect setup for creating a much, much more severe virus, Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said.
He said the safest thing to do would be to simply ban pigs from fairs while this strain of flu is circulating.
“In 80 years of culturing this virus, no one has seen anything even close to this situation that we’re seeing now with this H3N2 variant virus in North America,” Osterholm said. “What’s happened in fairs around the country in the last month is just absolutely unprecedented.”
But pig producers and some health officials say that concern may be overblown. They point out that pigs and people interact closely away from the fair all around the world.
Danila said the low number of cases in Minnesota is a good sign.
So there are likely to be about 900 pigs at the fair, between 4H kids starting to arrive Wednesday and FFA exhibitors next weekend.
“You know there probably have been 50 million, 80 million visitors at county and state fairs this last few months, with many countless human-pig interactions,” Danila said. “Yet, to date, there have only been 230 human cases of this new virus. And most of those have been mild illness, most of them have been children, and most of them have been in people with prolonged swine contact.”
The bottom line, he said: there’s no need to close the swine barn or ban pigs from the fair, and the danger of viral mutation is only theoretical at this point.
Closing the pig barn would be a big disappointment to the kids who show their animals, said Duane Hutton, the state fair superintendent for the FFA.
“Those kids that come up with their animals, they’re working the whole time, keeping them comfortable and clean and showing them,” Hutton said.