Petting Zoos and Pig Safety

August 26, 2014

It is a time of the year when festivals abound, presenting the harvest of the summer in a variety of formats. Agricultural fairs are very popular at this time of the year, as well as apple and pumpkin festivals. Warm sunny days abound and people flock to these events enjoying the season before winter sets in.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you attend these events. Petting zoos are popular at agricultural fairs. Both young and old like to view, feed and pet the animals. When visiting animal areas, there are several things you should KNOW. Know that animals can carry germs. Never eat, drink or put things in your mouth in animal areas. This includes toys, pacifiers, “sippy” cups, baby bottles and fingers and thumbs.  It has always been important to be sure to wash your hands after visiting petting zoos or touching farm animals. Older adults, pregnant women and young children (less than 5 years old) should be extra careful around animal exhibits. Wash your hands with soap and water when leaving the animal exhibit. Soap and water is preferred, but hand gel is acceptable if no soap and water is available. But note, hand gel does not remove visible dirt.

As in past years, there continues to be additional concern about animal exhibits that include pigs. Since June 2011, 321 cases of “pig” flu (H3N2v) have been diagnosed in humans. In 2012, there were 307 cases in 12 states and in 2013, there were 18 cases. While none of the cases have occurred in Connecticut, they have been as close as Pennsylvania and Maine. This virus is common to the pig population, and is generally not seen in humans.   Most of these human infections have been associated with close contact with pigs but there has also been some evidence of human to human transmission. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) closely monitors this flu. It provides the following guidance for the public: (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/h3n2v-cases.htm)

 CDC recommendations for people WITH high risk factors:

  • Anyone who is at high risk of serious flu complications planning to attend a fair where pigs will be present should avoid pigs and swine barns at the fair.
  • People who are at high risk of serious flu complications include children younger than 5 years, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term health conditions (like asthma and other lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions).

CDC recommendations for people NOT at high risk:

  • Don’t take food or drink into pig areas; don’t eat, drink or put anything in your mouth in pig areas.
  • Don’t take toys, pacifiers, cups, baby bottles, strollers, or similar items into pig areas.
  • Avoid close contact with pigs that look or act ill.
  • Take protective measures if you must come in contact with pigs that are known or suspected to be sick. This includes minimizing contact with pigs and wearing personal protective equipment like protective clothing and gloves and masks that cover your mouth and nose when contact is required. Wash your hands often with soap and running water before and after exposure to pigs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • To further reduce the risk of infection, minimize contact with pigs in the pig barn or arenas.
  • Watch your pig (if you have one) for illness. Call a veterinarian if you suspect illness.
  • Avoid contact with pigs if you have flu-like symptoms. Wait 7 days after your illness started or until you have been without fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, whichever is longer. If you must have contact with pigs while you are sick, take the protective actions listed above.

So, enjoy the fair! But use common sense and caution around animal exhibits. For more information, District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can contact Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 or request on line, www.qvhd.org