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Indiana, Ohio fairs on lookout for swine flu

CINCINNATI – Health officials in Ohio said Thursday that as many as 41 people – all but two of them children – have become sick with symptoms like those of a swine flu strain.

The cases are linked to the Butler County Fair, which ended last weekend. The southwest Ohio county’s health department has asked local medical providers to be alert to patients with flu symptoms and to ask whether they attended the fair, or have had other contact with hogs or with people who have.

No hospitalizations have been reported in connection with the most recent cases, whose symptoms are described as similar to a seasonal flu. Ohio health and agriculture officials are stepping up alerts and prevention measures with the annual Ohio State Fair going on this week in Columbus and more county fairs ahead this summer. Hamilton County’s fair begins in Cincinnati next week.

Dr. Joe Bresee, an influenza epidemiologist for the CDC, said there have been five confirmed cases in Indiana in recent days. With another case recently confirmed in Hawaii, the CDC has confirmed 19 cases of the swine flu strain since it first showed up about one year ago.

There were four cases linked to a northwest Indiana county fair and a fifth in southern Indiana. Indiana officials have also increased precautions for the Indiana State Fair beginning this weekend, and say they will turn away any hogs with temperatures above 105 degrees.

While the H1N1 swine flu caused a global pandemic in 2009, people have rarely contracted flu from pigs in recent years. However, the summer fair season brings thousands of people into close contact with hogs. Young fair exhibitors often spend hours with their animals, caring for them and preparing them for swine show competitions, and large numbers of people go through fair barns to see the pigs – there are nearly 1,500 hogs at the state fair this week.

More hand sanitizers have been added around barns at the Ohio State Fair, and owners and veterinarians are being urged to watch for any signs of illness in the hogs. State agriculture officials have also been spreading the word to county extension agents and others who work with 4-H and other youth groups involved with raising livestock. They say infected hogs might cough, sneeze or have stomach ailments.

Ohio officials had said Wednesday that preliminary laboratory tests on 10 people had indicated possible H3N2 variant flu virus, whose symptoms include cough, sore throat, fever, body aches and possible nausea and diarrhea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is testing specimens from those 10 to confirm the virus.

Ohio officials are telling fairgoers to wash their hands, and warn against taking food and drinks into livestock barns. Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should be particularly careful.

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