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Wash away flu fears at this year’s State Fair

By Karen Templeton
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Thousands of people will attend the State Fair in Jackson Oct. 7-18, and the novel H1N1 flu virus, commonly called “swine flu,” may have some attendees unnecessarily on edge.

“Swine are not responsible for spreading this virus,” said Mark Crenshaw, swine specialist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service. “It is very unfortunate that it was ever given that name. The virus actually has many other components to it and it is being spread by people, not by pigs.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that there are no known cases of swine with novel H1N1 in the United States. There is no evidence of swine passing the virus to humans, although it has been found that humans can pass the virus to swine.

Crenshaw said there have been a few isolated cases in other parts of the world that involved humans infected with novel H1N1 passing the virus to swine.

“It is important for people who have any flu-like symptoms not to handle animals or be close to them,” Crenshaw said. “It is always a good idea to practice proper sanitation when dealing with animals, whether it is a pig or your pet turtle, to protect you and them.”

Crenshaw said washing hands with warm water and soap or using hand sanitizer before and after handling animals can stop the spread of germs.

Dr. Jim Watson, state veterinarian with the Mississippi Board of Animal Health, said efforts are under way to educate the public about the importance of good sanitation, and his agency will be on-hand to protect swine health at the State Fair.

“Veterinarians will be monitoring the pigs at the fair and will examine and test any of them showing symptoms,” Watson said. “Any positive pigs will be isolated and sent home to prevent the spread of the virus to other pigs.” 

According to USDA scientists, not only have there been no reports of the novel H1N1 virus in U.S. swine, but the virus cannot be transmitted in food products.

“This virus cannot be transmitted through consumed pork products,” Crenshaw said. “Properly prepared pork and pork products are safe to eat.”

Though people do not need to fear getting novel H1N1 from swine, they do need to take precautions to help prevent further spread of this virus among people while at the State Fair. As is the case with being in any large crowd, people should use common-sense precautions to prevent or spread flu viruses.

“It is important to wash or disinfect your hands after touching surfaces that have been recently touched by others,” said Jane Clary, MSU Extension professor in the department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion. “You can’t always depend on hand-washing stations with plenty of soap and hot water to be available everywhere you go. So my No. 1 piece of advice is for people to carry their own supply of hand sanitizer with them.”

Clary said anyone who feels sick or has flu symptoms should stay home rather than attend events and infect others.

“Getting plenty of rest, eating nutritious foods and exercising can help boost the immune system and fight off viruses as well as contribute to overall good health. These behaviors in combination with following good hygiene can help prevent the flu,” Clary said. “People can further protect themselves from the seasonal flu by getting the vaccine, which is now available. Every little bit helps.”

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Released: Sept. 24, 2009
Contact: Dr. Mark Crenshaw (662) 325-1689