Beware pigs with goop in their eyes at the fair: New flu virus can pass from pigs to people

I’ve been listening to people preach petting zoo safety for 15 years, along with all kinds of food safety gospel, and it’s all faith-based.

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today reports a cluster of flu cases linked to contact with pigs has doctors at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning people to wash up and avoid eating around animals as they attend county and state fairs.

The new influenza strain sickened at least 12 people last week. All cases involved recent contact with pigs at agricultural fairs. Hawaii and Indiana each has one case, and 10 were linked to last week’s Butler County Fair in Ohio. Four other cases have been linked to a county fair in Indiana that ran July 8-14. None resulted in hospitalization or death.

The new flu goes by the name influenza A (H3N2) variant, or H3N2v, and was first identified in humans a year ago, says Joseph Bresee of the CDC Influenza Division. Of the 29 cases that have been reported so far, 80% "had swine contact before getting ill and most of that contact was at county fairs," he said.

To avoid H3N2v, people attending agricultural fairs and other events involving swine should take these precautions, CDC says:

• Wash hands with soap and water before and after exposure to animals.
• Avoid eating, drinking or putting anything in the mouth in animal areas.
• Don’t take food or drink into animal areas.
• Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses should avoid exposure to animal areas.
• If you develop flu symptoms after attending an agricultural fair, tell your doctor.
• Avoid sick pigs.

How do you know whether a pig is sick? Look for "a pig that’s got a runny nose, goop in their eyes or they’re standing away from other pigs in the enclosure," says Lisa Ferguson, a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Policy Program.

More rock, less BS.