County fair-goers warned after reports of swine flu at Ohio county fair

Protect your commercial production from summer spread of influenza.

With summer comes the enjoyment of the county fair. For many of us in agriculture, this is the social event of the season and we attend at least some portion of the fair. Perhaps you or a close relative, friend, or employee, are exhibitors at a fair, perhaps they exhibit swine. Swine exhibition is a great boon to the swine industry. Other countries would welcome this kind of youth involvement in their industry, along with the advertising and advocacy of raising pigs and helping consumers understand the food production cycle.

As with many things, there is another side to this story for commercial swine producers. Typically, we see influenza infections when we have changes in weather in the fall or the spring of the year. However, in the past few years, we are also seeing a summer spread of the influenza virus. County fairs and swine exhibitions involve the commingling of many different animals from diverse locations and health statuses. The fairgrounds can act as a mixing pot for influenza which can be transmitted from people-to-pigs and pigs-to-people. With respect to the fairs, other species may also be part of an influenza outbreak. There are three common subtypes of influenza (IAV) virus (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. The virus particles are shed through nasal secretions as early as 1 day after infection and up to 7 days.

Influenza in swine, and in most people, is typically mild and self-limiting, and a full recovery is expected. However, IAV is considered to play a primary role in polymicrobial respiratory-disease events such as concurrent PRRS or mycoplasma, causing persistent respiratory disease often non responsive to antibiotics. In addition, a major concern of epidemiologists is the likelihood for a novel human-swine-avian re-assortment of IAV. For commercial swine producers it is important that we recognize the significance of influenza infections in our herds and take precautions to protect against infections.

Recommendations:

  • Be transparent about visiting the fairgrounds with your employees, and if they are attending, outline the farm biosecurity policy that includes when to return to work after attending a swine exhibit at a fair. 
  • Observe a minimum one night downtime prior to return to the commercial swine site.
  • Have a conversation with employees about staying out of the swine barns at the county fair, if possible.
  • Fair footwear: Do not wear the same footwear from the fairgrounds back to your farm site. Do not put this footwear in your vehicle and protect your floor mats to avoid bringing manure in your vehicle and contaminating the area.
  • Utilize a sign-in sheet for employees to help increase awareness of when they have last been exposed to other pigs, such as show pigs.
  • Observe employees for indications of influenza within 1-4 days of fair visits (exposure). 
  • The most prominent clinical indications are overall malaise, achy feeling and fever. If an employee has clinical signs of influenza discuss limiting their exposure to swine while at work and, at a minimum, require them to wear a mask to minimize aerosol spread of virus particles.
  • Monitor the local fair for reports of IAV positive pigs or clinical signs in the swine exhibited.
  • It is recommended that you and your employees have an annual influenza vaccination.
  • Note that in Michigan, it is recommended that exhibitors be vaccinated for influenza as well as the pigs.

As commercial swine producers, we are all aware of the cost of influenza infections in our herds. However, these costs may not be as transparent as we think. Other contributing factors may make the cost of bringing influenza into your production systems higher than you think.  Producers need to consider the fact that employees will be out of work or not as productive as normal because they are not feeling well. During the summer months, this could happen at a time when other employees are planning to take their vacation and the barn becomes short-staffed quickly. When working with limited employees, details can be over looked and things can go undone.

If an influenza infection is widespread in the barn with pigs who are sick for 4 to 7 days, there will be resulting losses, poorer efficiencies, lighter market weights, more variation in the barn or increased days to market. With these potential issues it is important that we are proactive with our commercial herds and take proper precautions to protect it from the summer spread of influenza. 

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