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Influenza: A "fair-weather" foe

‘Tis
the season for flu at state and county fairs, where the combination of masses
of fairgoers, livestock exhibitors and hundreds of exhibition pigs creates an
atmosphere ripe for influenza transmission from animals to humans – and in the
opposite direction as well.

Last year, more than 300 U.S. human
swine influenza cases were linked to 37 fairs in at least 10 states, and 16
people were hospitalized. In Ohio, 107 human cases were traced to 14 county
fairs, and one person died.

People most at risk for complications
if they are infected with influenza are children under 5 or adults over age 65,
pregnant women in their last trimester and anyone with a compromised immune
system. Avoiding or minimizing time spent in the pig barns at fairs is the
safest bet for these at-risk populations, said Andrew Bowman, assistant
professor of veterinary
preventive medicine
 at
The Ohio State University.

To
better understand the dynamics of influenza transmission in pigs during fairs,
Dr. Andy Bowman, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive
Medicine, and colleagues in the Animal Influenza Ecology and Epidemiology
Research Program, are conducting an influenza surveillance project.
This research project, funded by the Minnesota Center of Excellence for
Influenza Research & Surveillance (MCEIRS) with federal funds from NIH,
began in the summer of 2009 focusing on the One Health concept of
bi-directional disease transmission from swine to humans, and from humans
to swine at agricultural fairs in Ohio. They believed that if you
commingle pigs and people for an extended period of time, as happens at fairs,
influenza infections might occur and potentially spread among the pigs and/or
people. Emily Caldwell, assistant director of research and innovation communications,
offers details in her story, “A Fair-Weather
Outbreak
.” 

During
the past four years, the research team collected nasal swabs from pigs at the
end of the fair. This end-of-fair sampling provided critical information about
the flu activity that was occurring in the pigs by the conclusion of the fair,
but it left gaps in knowledge about the influenza transmission happening during
the fair. The collection of nasal swabs requires restraint of the pig,
thus making it unfeasible to collect nasal swabs from pigs during the
exhibition. In order to overcome this obstacle, the members of the research
team are investigating the use of snout wipes to conduct influenza A virus
surveillance in pigs. If snout wipes are successful, there will be a way to
test pigs during the fair without causing a disruption in events or create
concern among owners. Collaboration wit the, Ohio Department of Agriculture,
Indiana Board of Animal Health, Purdue Extension, and several fairs in Ohio and
Indiana has allowed the research team to deploy the snout wiping method in the
field during the summer and begin gaining a better understanding of influenza
transmission dynamics of during fairs.

To
demonstrate wiping pig snouts for influenza virus testing, the research team
created an informational how-to video with simple steps to follow.

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