Attending fall fairs is a rite of passage – at least for those of us who grew up in the country. When I was showing horses, I literally went from fair to fair on weekends competing. Those of us with horses that could “ignore” the unusual sights and sounds did well. Those with skittish horses…..well……not so much. I was one of the lucky ones. The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was one of my favorite events and to this day I still love spending a day (or two) walking around looking at the vendors, the farmers who have brought their best animals to be judged and of course, the horses! Especially the show jumpers!
The best part of being around animals is of course petting them. Growing up on a farm, as far as I’m concerned, any animal can be a pet; cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, you name it. Give me enough time with them and they’ll be “pets”. For those who grew up in cities and did not have the opportunity to be around farm animals, fall fairs are an amazing opportunity to interact with them. However, we need to ensure that everyone understands the potential risk of interacting with them. They can carry pathogens that make us sick making hand washing so vital.
As we’re winding down to the end of the fair season, it was with great interest that I came across the CDC’s notification that they have found 4 variant virus infections linked to pigs. According to the study, the CDC has confirmed that 18 people (16 of which were children) from Michigan and Ohio were found to have been infected with a flu virus (Influenza A H3N2) which is associated with pigs. All 18 patients reported exposure in some form to pigs at agricultural fairs. There were no deaths associated with the cluster and there was no evidence suggesting the virus transmitted from person to person. While they did not find proof that there was person-to-person transmission what they did find is that some of the viruses found were reassortant, meaning both human and swine genetic material was found. The fact that there were genes of human origin indicates that the virus could be in a position to become more likely to spread from person to person.
All is not lost however, fall fairs are safe. We just need to be smart. If you’re planning on attending a fall fair, remember that animals can carry pathogens that make us sick. The single most important thing we can do is wash our hands after petting the animals and certainly before eating! We also need to avoid putting our hands on our faces or in our mouths. My rule is every time is see a hand sanitizer station, I use it!
I don’t have time to attend The Royal this year, but there are still 3 days left – so if you’re in the Toronto, Ontario area and have never been, I highly recommend it!