Health and agriculture officials are working to educate the public on the virus.
With fair season underway, officials within the health and agriculture communities are encouraging fairgoers to take extra steps to protect themselves from getting an influenza virus that circulates in pigs but has the potential to spread to people.
"We want to make sure that our fairgoers are prepared and that the exhibitors, as well, are safe and healthy so that they can have an enjoyable fair," said Sara Kleon, OSU Extension Educator.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H3N2v, also known as swine flu, resembles seasonal flu in symptoms and severity, which can be fatal.
Last year, Indiana led the nation with 138 H3N2v cases and was followed by 107 in Ohio. In fact, Kleon said there were at least two pigs at the 2012 Ross County Fair that were found to have been infected with the virus and around 7 local human cases reported following the fair.
In August of 2012, health officials said the death of a 61-year-old Madison County woman was linked to the infected Ross County swine.
Kleon said the woman was more at-risk as she had pre-existing health conditions: "Tragic, tragic, story, but her family had hogs; they had much exposure and movement of hogs that had picked up the virus."
The Ross County Health District's Rami Yoakum said people who are more at-risk include: children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system.
In an effort to be proactive, those involved with the fair are asking fairgoers to wash their hands with soap and water after visiting barn areas and are urging them to refrain from eating or drinking in the barns.
Kleon said parents who take small children in the barns to show them the animals will need to take even more precautions: "No strollers, no sippy cups, not setting up pack-n-plays in the barn, watch where the pacifiers are, and if they drop on the ground, definitely don't just wipe them off. That's not going to cut it."
According to Kleon, 4-H'ers who take their swine to the state fair are asked to quarantine their hogs for seven days prior to the Ross County Fair and disinfect their equipment as the exposure and movement of hogs heighten the risk for the spread of the virus.
"The fair does have vets who check the animals in, so they look them over and try to make sure they're not sick or showing signs and symptoms, and if they are, they turn them away," said Yoakum.
Yoakum said pork producers, last year, made a push for the public to call the virus H3N2v because there was the misconception that "swine flu" could be passed through consumption of pork products.
"There's no research out there to show that the influenza affects the meat or the product," said Kleon, "so food safety issues are the same as they are for anything."
Both Kleon and Yoakum stressed that they want people to support the Ross County Fair but to remember good hygiene practices while visiting.
"The fairs and agricultural exhibits have much value," said Kleon, "so we still want people to go out and see the exhibits."
"Be smart, not scared," added Yoakum.
(Photo Credit: Vanessa Doyle/ClearChannel. L to R: Kleon and Yoakum.)
For more information on H3N2v, log onto http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/h3n2v-basics.htm.