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Swine flu fears: Slam the door on hog exhibit at State Fair

A swine flu variant has caused one University of Minnesota expert to speak out in favor of closing off swine exhibits at this year’s Minnesota Great Get Together — the State Fair. The fair kicks off today.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U of M said the flu variant is “an unprecedented situation globally.”

Fair officials have indicated the swine exhibit will proceed. “The risk to the general public seems to be very low,” said Richard Danila, assistant state epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health in the Pioneer Press. That’s fine, if one doesn’t get the flu at the fair.

The H3N2 influenza virus has spread this summer in the United States.

How widespread is this new strain of influenza?

So far more than 200 cases have been reported in eight states since Jan. 1. Most of those cases have occurred in children showing hogs as part of their 4H or FFA project at county fairs and other exhibits.

Minnesota has reported only one case. A preschooler in Dakota County contracted the H3N2 flu while at an animal market. An older sibling of the infected child was also stricken with the illness, but that case was not confirmed as H3N2.

Osterholm argued that the primary concern is that, with each one of these transmissions, there’s more opportunity for this virus to mutate. He fears that the state fair, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to the swine exhibition area will be a breeding ground for spreading the virus.

Veterinarians at the fair will be checking hogs as they are brought to the Arden Hills fairgrounds for the infection.

Health officials are urging handlers and viewers of hogs at fairs to wash their hands thoroughly. They say fairgoers should avoid touching the animals then touching their mouth or nose.

Simply avoiding the swine exhibit altogether might be the better solution when attending the fair.

This year’s flu vacine will not prevent H3N2.

Keith Hansen

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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