Biosecurity enhancements for county fairs when swine influenza is a concern

It is important to take the proper steps to protect the people, animals and fair visitors from the spread of zoonotic diseases.

In today’s world, many people do not have a farming background, nor do they understand where their food comes from. At times, the only look at animal agriculture production people receive is viewing animals at their local county fair. These events showcase hardworking youth and their livestock projects and shed a positive light on agriculture.

However, when there is a people and animal interface, it is crucial to recognize the risks that come with the unique animal exhibition relationship. It is important that county fairs take the proper precautions to protect their exhibitors, the animals and the public. Promoting good hygiene habits, along with enhancing biosecurity practices at the fair, go a long way in protecting people and animals from the spread of zoonotic viruses.

A zoonotic virus is one that can be shared between people and animals and, at times, different species of animals. Influenza is a common zoonotic virus and these viruses typically are shed through nasal secretions and expelled during coughing or sneezing. Swine influenza, sometimes referred to as swine flu, is a virus that can circulate in the pig population but is generally not fatal and does not affect meat products or food safety. Influenza viruses are classified by the types and further classified by strains. Like people, pigs are susceptible to many strains of flu. There are three common subtypes of influenza (IAV) virus including H1N1, H1N2, H3N2, and they can infect humans, poultry, pigs and water fowl. Clinical signs in swine include sneezing, coughing, lethargy, fever and off-feed.

Human infection with flu viruses from pigs are most likely to occur when people are in close proximity to infected pigs, such as in pig barns and livestock exhibits housing pigs at fairs. Exhibitors and those who are around the animals are considered at highest risk and should follow proper biosecurity practices to protect themselves and their animals. It is important to remind not only the fair visitors, but fair families and youth exhibitors about good hygiene habits when around animals.

Below you will find recommendations on good hygiene habits to protect at animal exhibitions, as well as some enhancements for biosecurity for those with animals at the fair and for people in leadership position for animal exhibitions.

Good hygiene reminders:

  • After viewing animal exhibits properly wash your hands!

    • Soap and water are very effective in deactivating/killing the influenza virus.

    • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes can also be used.

  • Do not allow food or drink in the animal barns.

    •  Fair visitors and exhibitors should be asked to not eat or drink near the animal exhibits. Influenza virus is expelled during coughing and sneezing, virus particles can travel in the air and land directly on food or drink that a person may consume. 
  • If you are sick and experiencing influenza like symptoms, it is important to visit with your healthcare provider for medical assessment.

Enhanced biosecurity practices:

  • Encourage exhibitors to enhance biosecurity

    • Do not share feed pans, waterers, spray bottles or equipment unless cleaned and disinfected.
    • Always wash hands when leaving the barn, and stay away from nose-to-nose contact with your animals.
    • Monitor all animals for signs of sickness and report signs to barn superintendents.
      • Symptoms include: coughing, sneezing, off-feed, no motivation to get up and discharge from nose or eyes.
  • Areas of high pig traffic or equipment that comes into contact with the nose of the pig should be prioritized for disinfection.

    • Scale(s) and sorting boards are high risk for influenza transfer between commingled pigs. Disinfect scales frequently (between pigs from different families or every six to eight pigs handled) and sorting boards between classes of pigs during your show.
    • Wash-areas should be disinfected and allowed to dry at least once each day. To make sure there is time to thoroughly dry after being disinfected, this should take place at night, when all pig movement is complete.
    • Consider providing a disinfection area and supplies for exhibitors to clean their equipment before it goes home.
    • Remember, bleach and other disinfectants should always be used under the direction of an adult.
  • Suggested disinfectants for use at county fairs include:

    • Accelerated hydrogen peroxide (AHP), commonly known as Accel or Rescue. These products can be sourced online, are non-toxic/non-irritating and effective against influenza when mixed properly (one part AHP to 16 parts water), with a one-minute contact time. AHP also contain detergents.

    • Bleach is also an effective disinfect used to reduce influenza virus. Common household bleach should be mixed with water (one part bleach to 32 parts water) and allowed one-minute of contact time to successfully kill influenza virus. Do not add ammonia or ammonia containing products to the bleach/water mixture.
    • Detergents can be used to help break down organic matter and biofilm that may harbor disease. These can be used prior to applying disinfectant or added to the disinfectant/water mixture. 
  • Have a plan in place to monitor for and deal with animals showing signs of sickness.

    • Immediately quarantine the sick animal. Animal should be isolated from all other animals and equipment should not be shared when taking care of sick animals.
    • Barn superintendents should continue to monitor all animals. Specific attention should be given to the animals in pens adjacent to where the sick animal was housed.
    • If other pigs exhibit signs of sickness, temporarily close the barn to assess the situation. Consult with your fair veterinarian, fair leadership and species experts about next steps.

More information and resources can be found on the Michigan State University Extension Swine Influenza program page. It is important that county fairs and exhibitions take precautions to protect exhibitors, the public and pigs, from the spread of disease. Event officials should look for ways to implement preventative strategies at their fair or exhibition that will help to ensure proper biosecurity and hygiene practices are followed.