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Public urged to be cautious when attending fairs

COVINGTON -- The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Public Health are warning the public to be cautious when attending public fairs and agricultural events this fall due to confirmed human infections with H3N2v -- a flu virus normally found in swine.

Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black urges hand washing after being in the presence of, or touching, swine.

"There is no reason to stay away from fairs," Black said. "Our state's fairs and agricultural expositions play a major role in Georgia and this year we need to ensure we're staying safe."

On Aug. 17, the CDC announced that 225 cases of H3N2v infection have been reported in the United States so far this year. Cases have been reported in Hawaii, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois.

"Georgia has not had a confirmed human case of H3N2v, and I'd like to keep it that way," said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. "There are simple measures -- like hand washing -- everyone can take to stay safe."

There have been no deaths as a result of H3N2v this year. Most infections have occurred in children and have been mild with very few hospitalizations. It is recommended that anyone experiencing flu symptoms after exposure to swine call their health care provider. Certain people including young children, elderly persons, pregnant women, and people with long-term medical conditions are at greater risk than others. Common sense prevention methods should be observed including washing hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and staying at home when you are feeling ill to protect others.

This is not a food safety issue, and influenza is not spread through eating pork and pork products.

"While the risk is minimal, we want young people participating in youth livestock projects this fall to be mindful and remember the 'common-sense' training they have received from their 4-H and FFA advisors," said Black.

All animals at a state fair are required to have a current certificate of veterinary inspection by a licensed and accredited veterinarian. At the Georgia State Fair and at all Junior National Shows, Georgia agricultural veterinarians are on-site to ensure the health of all animals presented.

There are steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of influenza between people and pigs:

-- Wash your hands frequently with soap and running water before and after exposure to animals.

-- Never eat, drink, or put things in your mouth while in animal areas, and don't take food or drink into animal areas.

-- Children younger than 5, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions, are at high risk for serious complications if they get influenza. People with these risk factors should consider avoiding exposure to pigs and swine barns this summer, especially if sick pigs have been identified.

-- If you have animals including swine watch them for signs of illness, and call a veterinarian if you suspect they might be sick.

-- Avoid close contact with animals that look or act ill, when possible.

-- Avoid contact with pigs if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

For more information about the investigation and H3N2v, visit the CDC's website at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/influenza-variant-viruses-h3n2v.htm.