Summer fair time is here, and with it comes funnel cakes, midway rides, grandstand events, and livestock displays and competitions.
But health experts warn that the arrival of fairs also raises the potential for swine at the events to carry influenza viruses that can make humans sick.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease in pigs caused by influenza viruses that regularly circulate among swine, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). These viruses do not usually infect people, but human infections have been reported.
In 2018, variant flu viruses sickened 17 people – including three from Michigan – after having direct or indirect contact with pigs at fairs or exhibits, according to the MDHHS. Since 2010, there have been 466 confirmed cases in the United States, mostly among children.
Like human influenza, swine flu is spread about the same way humans share viruses, from droplets of saliva when infected pigs cough or sneeze. People cannot get swine influenza from eating properly prepared pork or handling pork products, according to the MDHHS.
“All swine, even those that appear healthy, have the potential to carry influenza virus,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health with the MDHHS. “Washing your hands thoroughly before and after being around swine protects both you and your family from the risk of influenza virus, and also keeps the swine healthy.”
Symptoms of swine flu mirror those of seasonal flu viruses more common among humans. They include fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea. Recovery from the illness may take a week or longer.
Those at higher risk of contracting swine flu include children under 5, people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic health diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems and neurological conditions.
There is current no human vaccine against swine influenza, and the seasonal flu vaccine will not protect against it, the MDHHS reported. Anyone who becomes ill with flu-like symptoms after exposure to pigs should contact their doctor and be tested for influenza.
The MDHHS recommends following the following steps to stay safe around swine:
- Do not eat or drink in livestock barns or show rings.
- Do not take toys, pacifiers, cups, baby bottles, strollers or other similar items into areas where pigs are present.
- Anyone at high risk of serious flu complications should avoid pig and swine barns while at the fair.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent spreading germs.
- Stay away from swine if you have flu-like symptoms.
- If you come down with flu-like symptoms, stay home from work or school until the illness is over.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw the tissue away after using it and wash your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or with alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
For more information on swine influenza, contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development at (800) 292-3939. Find the safety tips at michigan.gov/documents/mdard/Health_Tips_2019_Web_645621_7.pdf or view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information sheet at cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/.
Tags: swine flu