Swine flu cases sure to elicit discussions at fair conference
(Oct. 10, 2017) A recent rash of swine flu outbreaks in Maryland is likely to spark new discussion about livestock management at agricultural fairs, the state’s chief veterinarian said last week.
September outbreaks at fairs in Charles, Frederick and Anne Arundel counties that infected 40 people — two of whom were hospitalized — as of Oct. 4 will be a key subject for discussion at an annual conference for the Maryland Association of Agricultural Fairs & Shows in Ocean City next month.
“We certainly want to improve and make some changes,” said Michael Radebaugh, the state veterinarian. “This will be a hot topic we will discuss, and we will improve upon what we do.”
The association, founded in 1984, is a nonprofit organized to share information and ideas to improve fair operations across the state. It’s not a regulatory body, however.
But it would be the right forum to suggest new practices that may prevent future outbreaks, Radebaugh said.
He suggested limited pig exhibits to just three days so any ill swine would be removed before the virus’ three-day incubation period passes and they begin spreading the virus. Tightening vaccination requirements may also help, he said.
Robert Fogle, the association’s vice president, said it was premature last week to discuss new measures before their convention.
“Each fair is unique and different,” he said. “Some fairs are only three days. Other fairs are more than three days.”
Radebaugh said he also plans to speak with individual county fair officials.
The state awaits final analysis of flu samples sent to the USDA’s National Veterinary Service Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
The state identified the flu virus’ strain as H3N2v, though questions remain about its source and subtype.
In late July, Radebaugh and the state agriculture department reminded anyone showing pigs during fair season to practice strict biosecurity measures following an Ohio outbreak.
“I just felt like we were due,” he said.Recent high temperatures and humidity may have spurred the outbreak as animals became more stressed and susceptible to infection, Radebaugh said.
It’s also unclear whether the virus was spread first among pigs and then to humans or vice versa, he said.
More than 100 pigs were quarantined between the three fairs, and swine exhibits were banned from the Calvert County Fair last week.
Results from CDC and USDA tests should be available in about three weeks, he said.
Influenza is an infection caused by the influenza virus, which can affect people and animals, including pigs and birds, according to the state health department.
Symptoms for the H3N2v strain are the same as seasonal flu and include fever and respiratory symptoms such as a sore throat and cough.
Certain people are at a higher risk for more serious complication, including children less than 5 years old, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic heart, lung, liver, kidney and neurologic conditions or immunosuppression.
They should avoid pigs and swine barns, especially where sick pigs have been discovered, the department said.
Radebaugh said the flu does not impact the quality of pork products when cooked.
“The virus really has no effect on the meat,” he said. “It’s a virus that affects the lungs and certainly does not affect the meat.”
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