After a fair season in which people nationally were sickened by a strain of swine flu spread through animal contact, the Clark and Champaign County fairs are taking extra precautions this year to ensure that local fairgoers remain healthy.
The Clark County Fair, which opens today, is trying to prevent illness by putting up eight additional hand-washing stations, in addition to the hand sanitizer dispensers at the barns.
Fair officials are banning food and drinks from inside barns, and also are banning things in the barns such as strollers and sippy cups that may put small children at risk for infection.
Signs will remind people to wash their hands.
Last year from July through November, 307 cases of the H3N2v flu were reported nationwide, with 107 in Ohio. Locally, 15 cases were reported in Champaign County and three in Clark County.
“Sanitation and hand-washing are the two biggest things we are working on,” said Allan Hess, executive director of the Clark County Fair. “Our best advice is to tell people to wash their hands frequently.”
The fair won’t have anyone monitoring the barns to make sure people don’t bring in prohibited items, but Hess stresses that if people want to minimize their risk of illness, they follow the regulations.
“Practicing good hygiene can help prevent illness,” said Tessie Pollock of the Ohio Department of Health.
The Ohio Department of Health is recommending that high-risk groups such as pregnant women, small children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems avoid visiting animal exhibits.
Along with advising fairgoers on hygiene, the fair is also giving animal owners some guidance. Owners are advised to not bring animals that are showing signs of illness to the fair. If an animal is already at the fair and then proceeds to show signs of illness, the animal can be treated at the fair.
The Champaign County Fair, which runs Aug. 2-9, is taking a similar approach to ensure that fairgoers are educated on the proper hygiene when attending.
According to Tom Tullis of the Champaign County Fair, each 4-H student is required to go through training in sanitation, as well as having their animals tested to make sure they are not carrying the flu virus.
The fair is also adding sanitation stations to the barn areas to encourage fairgoers to wash their hands before and after interacting with animals.
As with the Clark County Fair, things such as food, drinks, strollers and sippy cups are not permitted inside barn areas. There will also be signs letting fairgoers know of the rules.
Animals transported between the Champaign County Fair and the Ohio State Fair will be inspected for signs of flu. Those carrying the flu will remain with their owners.
The Clark County Fair runs through July 26.