Directly across York Road from my office at Doctors Express of Timonium, the
fairgrounds are being readied to welcome thousands of visitors to the Maryland
State Fair. The preparations remind me that a new strain of swine flu (H3N2v)
has emerged, the most recent cases of which have been linked to fairs in Ohio
and Indiana where patients came in contact with pigs.
H3N2v, which shares a gene with the 2009 pandemic flu strain, has not made an appearance in Maryland yet, but was confirmed in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as other areas from Maine to Utah. With cases in bordering states, chances are good that it will spread to Maryland.
Symptoms have been mild and include fever, cough and sore throat. No deaths have been reported.
So far, the surge in swine flu cases is not being called a pandemic because there is no evidence of transmission between humans. However, health officials are watching closely, in case this proves to be the origin of the next big influenza outbreak, and warning people to be cautious at state and county fairs.
One of my favorite parts of the fair is meeting all the fantastic animals that converge on Timonium at the end of August. I wouldn’t miss the pig races or the chance to see chicks breaking out of their eggs at the Birthing Center. But my family and I take special precautions while enjoying the fair, and will certainly be thinking of H3N2v when visiting the Swine Barn and Cow Palace this year.
Here’s how to stay safe around the animals:
- Don’t take food or drink into barns.
- Always wash hands thoroughly after being near animals.
- Remember that elderly folks, young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems have the highest risk of contracting the flu.
The fairgrounds are well equipped with convenient hand-washing stations, so it’s easy to have close encounters with animals and stay healthy.
As H3N2v is not being transmitted person-to-person, there is not a vaccine yet. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a seed virus—a beginning step in vaccine development—and made it available to manufacturers for clinical trials. These measures will enable rapid mass production should widespread human transmission occur.
So have fun at the fair, but stay informed and use those hand-washing stations.