Swine flu won’t scare this State Fair lover from visiting the pig barnThis is a special time of year: the fall harvest is approaching, and as a nation we celebrate our rich farming heritage at county fairs and, of course, the Minnesota State Fair.
By: Ann Busche, For the Duluth Budgeteer News
This is a special time of year: the fall harvest is approaching, and as a nation we celebrate our rich farming heritage at county fairs and, of course, the Minnesota State Fair.
In the interest of full disclosure: I love all fairs and I must go through every barn. While other fairgoers may make a face at the smells, I inhale deeply and sigh, because I love that barn smell of hay and animals.
As I get ready to head to the State Fair, I’m aware, especially as a public health professional, that the first case of swine flu (H3N2v) has been confirmed in Minnesota: A preschool-age child and an older sibling, from a family living in the Twin Cities metro area, developed symptoms of the illness two days after the family visited a live-animal market in Dakota County Aug. 10.
Officials at the Minnesota Department of Health believe both children were most likely exposed to the new flu strain from pigs while they were at the Dakota County Fair; I’m sure the officials at the Minnesota State Fair are doing everything possible to let only healthy animals into the fair. My understanding is the pigs can be asymptomatic.
Neither child required hospitalization, and both are recovering. They were tested for the virus that causes a new flu strain, but only the younger child tested positive. However, the older child is considered a “probable” case, based on the child’s history of flu-like illness and the family-connection to the younger child.
Swine flu is exactly what you might think: a flu that makes pigs sick. Normally, pigs with the flu make other pigs sick, but sometimes a human can get the flu directly from a pig, and this is what is currently happening in Minnesota and in other states as well.
Is this going to stop me from heading to the fair? Nope. But I will behave differently when I head to the swine barn.
First, I’ll make sure that I’m healthy. This flu, like other strains of the flu, can have serious complications for children under the age of 5, people 65 or older, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neuro - developmental conditions.
I’ll make sure that I take basic, common sense precautions when I’m in the swine barn. Scientists believe the flu can be spread when an infected pig coughs or sneezes, and droplets containing the virus travel through the air and are then inhaled, or land on a nose or mouth, or even on a table or railing, and then touched by the hand and brought to the eye or mouth.
It is also possible to get sick by inhaling dust that contains the virus. So, I won’t take any food or drink into the area, not even something on a stick. I’ll avoid touching my eyes, nose and mouth until I wash my hands with soap and water after the visit. If soap and water aren’t available, I’ll use the alcohol-based hand products that I know the fair has in all the barn areas. Families with children should not take toys, pacifiers, cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar types of things into the swine area.
What happens if, despite all my precautions, I get home from the fair and about a week later I get all the signs of the flu — fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing, and perhaps a runny nose, sore throat, itchy eyes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea?
I’ll do the same things I would do for any flu: stay at home and rest, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and treat symptoms as necessary with over-the-counter medications. If I get worried about my symptoms, I’ll be sure to let my doctor know that I’ve had contact with pigs, so the right tests can be performed and the right treatment provided.
There’s lots of good
information about staying healthy while enjoying the fair experience, at Minnesota Department of Health, www.health. state.mn.us, and the Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov.
Ann Busche is the director of the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services department. Contact her at 726-2096 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org