An Ohio State University researcher is coordinating a multi-state study testing for flu among pigs at fairs as swine infected with a flu virus. Two cases were confirmed so far this year at county fairs in Ohio.

Andrew Bowman, a veterinarian with Ohio State’s Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, says he finds on average, one out of every four fairs he attends every year has at least one pig infected with the Influenza A Virus Infecting Swine (IAV-S). Some of the infected pigs don’t show clinical signs of the illness when they’re tested.

Swine Influenza A is a respiratory disease, with symptoms including fever, coughing (barking), sneezing, breathing difficulties, eye redness or inflammation and not eating. Some pigs infected with influenza, however, may show no signs of illness at all.

Swine flu viruses do not normally infect people; however, sporadic human infections with these viruses have occurred. 

Bowman is in the middle of a seven-year study involving 100 county and state fairs in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and West Virginia. His team is collecting nasal swabs from 20 pigs at each fair, and recording what prevention measures, such as hand washing stations, are taken to keep people and animals safe.

This summer two county fairs in Ohio reported pigs with two different strains of the influenza A virus. In  Clinton  County, pigs were tested to have H3N2, the strain most commonly spread to humans. Eleven individuals who had contact with pigs tested positive for H3N2. In Franklin  County pigs had H1N1 and no human cases were reported.

In a 2012 study of 40 Ohio agricultural fairs, Bowman and his team found 10 with H3N2-infected pigs, and at the majority of fairs with infected swine, people also caught the flu.

His staff watched people as they exited the pig barns and recorded whether they washed their hands. Most fairs in Bowman’s multi-state study provide hand wash stations outside the animal barns, but they were used, on average, by less than 10 percent of visitors, he said.

This year Ohio State Fair is being proactive by reminded fairgoers and swine exhibitors of best practices to negate problems with swine flu. They are providing hand sanitizer stations, reminding visitors of the importance of well-cared for animals, and spacing out shows to minimize the time animals are on the fairgrounds.

Eating pork, as long it has been properly cooked, cannot cause someone to catch the influenza A virus.

“Go ahead and enjoy a giant pork tenderloin or my favorite, a pork chop sandwich,” Bowman said. “Just don’t eat your treat in the barn.”

More resources for pork exhibitors and visitors can be found at www.pork.org/flu.