Last week, Health Talk highlighted new research from Jeff Bender, D.V.M., an associate professor of veterinary public health in the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, that found nearly 20 percent of seemingly healthy pigs at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair were carrying the influenza virus, and at least four were carrying the virus responsible for 2009’s swine flu pandemic.
This week, as nearly 1,000 pigs are scheduled to arrive at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds for the 2012 state fair beginning Thursday, swine flu has again captured national headlines.
Across the country, nearly 200 people in eight states have contracted the latest virus strain, H3N2v. Yesterday the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed that the new strain of flu is now present in Minnesota.
Now, the situation has led one prominent School of Public expert to call for a closure to the Minnesota State Fair Swine Barn to protect the public from the virus.
In an article in today’s Star Tribune, Mike Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H., said the number of swine flu infections as a result of pig-to-human contact is unprecedented. As a result, he believes the safest course is to simply eliminate that contact where you can.
The Star Tribune’s Maura Lerner reports:
On Monday, the CDC recommended that anyone who’s sick, or particularly vulnerable to the flu, avoid the swine exhibit. That includes young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with severe chronic conditions.
Fair officials say their veterinarians will be closely monitoring pigs for signs of illness.
But Osterholm, a former Minnesota state epidemiologist, said the precautions may do little if any good at preventing the spread of the virus.
“As the pigs are being affected, so are the people having contact,” he said. “None of us have ever seen this kind of dynamic transmission from humans to animals,” he said. He also said there’s evidence that healthy-looking pigs can carry the virus.
“If ever we should be avoiding the human-animal interface, this is it,” he said.
Stay tuned to Health Talk for updates around H3N2v and any changes to Minnesota State Fair attractions as a result of swine flu.