State Fair Reminds People to Wash Hands as H3N2v Spreads

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

The swine influenza strain H1N1 made headlines in 2009, but while a new virus - H3N2v - is present in the United States, it's not spreading as quickly.

However, some Nebraska State Fair attendees may have noticed an increase in hand washing stations and signs reminding folks to wash their hands after they've been around animals.

The Central District Health Department (CDHD) says so far H3N2v hasn't been a problem in Nebraska.

"There haven't been any cases in Nebraska so far," says Community Health Nurse Katie Wichman. "As of [Friday morning], there's been 289 cases in the United States, and it's basically just related to swine exposure."

State Fair officials say their increase in hand washing reminders were not put in this year specifically because of H3N2v, but to keep everyone safe all the time.

"We're just trying to be proactive so that nothing does happen," says Livestock Superintendent Bill Angell. "We check all the animals when they come in, we have veterinarians on site all the time through the fair."

But the CDHD has placed signs in some areas of the fair, reminding people the H3N2v is around.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says H3N2v spreads the same way season flu does, through coughing and sneezing, but it's the swine that get sick first.

"It changes rapidly, so down the road we could see some human-to-human transmission, but as of right now, it's just swine-to-human," says Wichman.

There is no vaccine for H3N2v, but health officials still recommend getting the seasonal flu shot and making sure you wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer.

"If you have small kids, if you're pregnant, if you're over the age of 65 and you have those chronic medical conditions [it's best] to just avoid that, the pig exhibits, this year," says Wichman.

The fair says those are good practices to keep around all livestock, but they say if an outbreak of any kind were to occur on the fairgrounds, they're ready to handle it.

"We have animal welfare policies, we have emergency plans in place, so, yeah, we're on top of anything," says Angell.

The CDC says that you cannot get H3N2v from eating pork, right now it's only being transmitted from swine-to-humans.

Of those 289 cases reported so far, about half of them were in Indiana, and about another 100 were found in Ohio. As of Friday morning Ohio has the only H3N2v-related death. A 61 year old woman died after coming in contact with pigs at a county fair, but the Ohio Health Department says underlying medical conditions may have contributed to her death.


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