Visit critters at the fair, then wash your hands

It’s hard to turn down a chance to see a pygmy goat up close.

Or the cattle, sheep, horses and swine included in the 4-H competitions at the Evergreen State Fair, which opens next week.

But with a new kind of swine flu being reported among people who have attended fairs and been exposed to pigs, there’s one more reason this summer to be extra careful about hand washing when seeing the animals.

Nationally more than 225 people have become ill with this new type of swine flu since July with most of those cases — 138 — being reported in Indiana.

Federal health officials say that more than 90 percent of these illnesses were among children.

“The message is enjoy the fair, but safely,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

Flu can be spread from pigs to humans, he said.

“Kids will be touching them and then touching their faces,” he said.

Fair-goers should remember not to take food into areas where animals are being displayed and to wash their hands before they enter the exhibition areas, and again after they leave, he said.

Goldbaum said pregnant women and anyone with immune system disorders should consider avoiding animal display areas.

The new swine flu virus has some genetic similarities to the swine flu virus that triggered a global pandemic in 2009. However, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say the current illnesses do not appear to be the beginning of another pandemic.

The new type of flu sickens people in much the same way as seasonal flu, with most cases being relatively mild.

If the flu-related reminders to wash you hands after viewing livestock sound familiar, it’s because another disease, E.coli 0157 can be spread by contact with animals.

Animals can have bacteria on their bodies, even when they look healthy and clean.

Children and adults can become infected if they touch an animal with the bacteria on their coats and then touch their mouths, state Health Department officials note.

Last year, four people were sickened with E.coli infections after visits to the city of Everett’s petting zoo.

One of the children was hospitalized for several days at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“Animals are great to have around,” Goldbaum said. “We just need to be aware that they can also expose us to harmful diseases.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Thwart disease

These steps can help reduce the spread of disease between animals and people:

•Wash hands with soap and water, especially after exposure to animals. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand gel.

Never eat, drink, smoke, or put things in your mouth in animal areas; don’t take food or drinks into animal areas.

Never take toys, pacifiers, spill-proof cups, baby bottles, strollers or similar items into animal areas.

Avoid close contact with animals if they look or act ill.

Source: Washington State Department of Health

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