- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

LYNDONVILLE, Vt. (AP) | No sows or piglets in the children’s barnyard at this year’s Caledonia County Fair. No baby pig chases, either.

Swine are not welcome at Vermont’s oldest fair, uninvited because of misconceptions about how the swine flu virus spreads. Although the novel H1N1 pandemic virus is primarily a human disease, transmitted from human to human, fair officials say they want to protect themselves from bad publicity or frivolous lawsuits if someone gets sick and blames it on a pig.

That puts the Caledonia County Fair at odds with most other fairs across the country, which are going to great lengths this year to protect their pigs from people because the virus can be transmitted to the animals by humans.

The virus, which has turned up in herds in Canada, Argentina and Australia, has yet to been found in pigs in the U.S. In one rare instance, it might have jumped from pigs to two hog inspectors in Canada, but officials told the Canadian Press they could not be certain.

Fairs and petting zoos routinely encourage handwashing to protect people from animal-borne illnesses like E. coli. Now some fairs are urging handwashing to protect the animals, specifically pigs, from the current pandemic.

When the Oregon State Fair opened in Salem on Friday, visitors confronted pig barriers, recommended by the state veterinarian.

“Our pigs aren’t sick, are you?” say signs that will be posted at the fair. “If you’re not feeling well, don’t visit the pigs.”

In Maine, agriculture officials have distributed posters to fairs with swine exhibits that ask fairgoers to stay out of the exhibit areas if they are showing signs of having the flu.

“Right now, we’re more worried about people giving it to pigs, rather than vice versa,” said state veterinarian Don Hoenig.

Similar signs were posted when the Nebraska State Fair opened in Lincoln on Friday.

North Carolina, the nation’s second-largest hog-producing state behind Iowa, is going one step further by installing wooden barriers around the sow and piglet pens at its upcoming state fair in Raleigh and the North Carolina Mountain Fair in Fletcher. That will keep people at least 3 feet away from the pigs, out of humans’ reach and sneezing range. Signs will also direct fairgoers to stay out of livestock barns if they are sick or have been sick in the past seven days.

“The handwashing stations have been there for years but now the message is a little bit different: Wash both before and after, not just after. You know, keep the animals healthy as well as keep yourself healthy,” said Karen Beck, a veterinarian with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

But officials at Vermont’s oldest fair, which extends through Sunday, have decided to take no chance, banning all swine from the Lyndonville event.

“The perception that swine flu was transmitted between pigs and human is why we did this. In reality, we know there’s no transmission between pigs and humans,” said fair president Dick Lawrence.

Jim Tucker, president of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, said he doesn’t know of any other fair in North America where pigs are unwelcome. He said most fairs will go on as usual, stressing personal hygiene.

“The message that fairs should be taking to the public is there is absolutely no connection between the consumption of pork and the swine flu, as it was called,” he said.

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