The Washington State Department of Agriculture is sounding the alarm about the growing threat posed by bird flu and swine flu. The department is working with farms across the state to curb the spread, but is urging fairgrounds to take precautions as well.
On Thursday, the Evergreen State Fair kicked off in Monroe, themed “The Show Must Go On!” The fair offers exhibitions and competitions on poultry and pigs, which is a break with the recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture.
“Any type of virus, but especially bird flu, it’s just incredibly contagious. And this just happens to be a good candidate for a super spreader type event,” said Amber Betts of the Department of Agriculture.
The department advised that fairs across the state suspend all poultry events and avoid close contact between humans and pigs. Betts tells KIRO 7 News that this is just a recommendation, not a mandate.
“I know a lot of people when we first recommended suspending the fairs, people said, ‘well, I can’t go to my fair?’ And that’s not what we say. We’re saying maybe we should leave the chickens at home,” Betts said.
Washington has already seen more than 2,000 bird flu cases in birds this year. Betts clarifies that avian flu is spread among birds. And that the biggest threat is within herds, not humans.
“We don’t really have … major human health concerns with this particular virus. But it’s definitely something that will affect our poultry,” Betts said. However, she says the increased spread of the virus will affect people in the supermarket, with prices for eggs and poultry expected to rise the longer the virus outbreak continues.
As for the swine flu, the Oregon CDC identified the fourth case of a human contracting the virus.
Organizers of the Evergreen State Fair say they have taken extra precautions to keep carnival visitors safe. Amy Craven, from the show, tells KIRO 7 News that each of the animals has been inspected by a vet before being allowed into the exhibit centers. She says that in many cases it is local children who bring the animals to the fair through organizations such as 4H and Future Farmers of America.
“These animals are very important to the kids,” Craven says. “They’re learning about farming and farming, they’re learning how to take care of these animals, so we want to make sure they’re safe when they come here.”
She adds that there are signs in every exhibit hall with information about hand washing and sanitation when handling animals. She adds that participants are aware of concerns about the flu strain.
“Having the bird flu and keeping an eye on it — that’s another educational opportunity for them to learn how to keep poultry healthy and safe,” Craven said.
Betts adds that while there is still a risk, they ask people to remain vigilant when handling farm animals.
“You want to make sure that if you’re handling eggs or birds, [that you’re] wash your hands in between and also wear gloves,” says Betts. “The ability to spread this virus is very high. The risk, the level of it being contagious is off the charts.”
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