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Oregon fairs use biosecurity to protect people and animals

County fair season in full swing, state vet has advice for exhibitors & the public

Over the next several weeks, Oregon’s county fair season will be in full bloom as fairs practice the normal biosecurity protocol designed to keep both animals and people healthy. The state veterinarian is confident that the melding of specific measures and common sense will once again make for successful, disease-free fairs.

“When you bring in and concentrate animals and people together, there is the opportunity for contagious diseases to be spread,” says State Veterinarian Dr. Brad LeaMaster of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “It makes us think about how we prevent that from happening. That’s called biosecurity.”

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed a dozen cases of influenza A variant H3N2v associated with exposure to swine at a fair in Indiana. The swine flu virus has not been reported in Oregon or other western states, but the potential for additional cases is enough for CDC to issue a warning. LeaMaster says veterinarians and health officials will keep their eyes open, but there isn’t any cause for major concern at this time.

Besides swine flu, several other animal diseases– many that also affect humans– are worthy of attention during the fair season. In the past couple of years, special efforts have been made at Oregon county fairs to protect livestock against avian influenza and exotic newcastle disease in poultry, vesicular stomatitis in horses and cattle, a viral hemorrhagic disease in rabbits, and E. coli O157, an animal-to-human disease issue which caused dozens of illnesses at the Lane County Fair in 2002.

“We have no reports of diseases yet, but certainly we will be on the lookout,” says LeaMaster.

Biosecurity is defined as a set of preventive measures that are designed to minimize or eliminate the risk of infectious diseases being transmitted.

Common sense measures are at the heart of good biosecurity. For livestock owners who plan on bringing animals to events, step one is to make sure those animals are clean and healthy to begin with. All animals entering the fair should be routinely checked by on-site veterinarians. Fair managers are asked to support the vet’s observations and decisions on treatment and reporting of sick animals.

“With a veterinary inspection, we should have healthy animals coming into the fair,” says LeaMaster. “While they are there, they are constantly monitored for signs of disease. Any animals that get sick will be removed and will receive treatment right away.”

While at the exhibition, owners need to take steps to assure the comfort and protection of the animal during its stay. That includes making sure there is reasonable ventilation, bedding is always clean and fresh, and there is always fresh water and food available to the animal. The idea is to keep that animal under minimal stress.

Livestock owners should not share feeding or grooming utensils between their animal and other animals. Viruses can easily be spread by contaminated objects such as water and feed buckets, bridles, and brushes. Another common vector for disease is the human hand. People should wash hands after making contact with someone else’s animal and before making contact with their own, or vice-versa.

The biosecurity doesn’t end when the fair or show is over. Livestock owners need to continue taking precautions as they bring their animals back home. Generally, the animal should be properly isolated from other animals back home for at least 7 to 14 days just in case it has been exposed and is incubating a disease.

ODA's routine requirements help keep a lid on importing unwanted animal diseases. A certificate of veterinary inspection and an Oregon import permit are mandatory for all animals coming from other states. Fair managers can and should double check the paperwork to ensure the animal is legally cleared to be in Oregon.

There is also advice to the public. For fair goers, signs will be posted encouraging people to wash their hands after interacting with animals, especially if they are going to consume food. Young children should be discouraged from eating in livestock areas. Of course, sick people should simply stay away.

“It’s like your grandma taught you, it’s basic sanitation,” says LeaMaster. “If you are around the animals and you happen to be close enough to touch one, wash your hands when you leave the area.”

In May, Dr. LeaMaster gave a presentation at a meeting of the Oregon Fairs Association on safe livestock handling at summer events. He also introduced Sara Livesay, who recently graduated from Oregon State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Livesay presented the findings of her senior project, “Evaluation of Veterinary Inspections at County Fairs in Oregon”, which has been submitted for publication.

“It is imperative that veterinary inspections be performed at county fairs to identify and hopefully prevent any sick animals from entering the fairgrounds,” says Livesay in summary of her findings.

Livesay’s study found that many county fairs do an excellent job of evaluating animals before they enter the fairgrounds, but she discovered that some counties do not perform veterinary inspections.

“I was surprised how much the counties differed in what protocols they have for veterinary inspections. This illustrates how important it is to raise awareness on how to prevent and screen for animal disease, as well as continuing to educate about the risk of certain zoonotic diseases.”

The study’s recommendations include having all county fairs perform veterinary inspections prior to animal entry onto the fairgrounds. The presentation and recommendations were well received by the counties.

Fairs in Multnomah, Lincoln, and Marion counties have already taken place. This week, fairs get underway in Columbia, Jackson, and Linn counties with the bulk of county fairs running in August leading up to the State Fair at the end of next month. Biosecurity will be a priority in all events.

Oregonians should feel free to embrace the county fair experience, including livestock exhibits. Making sure both people and animals are healthy before and during the event will ensure they are healthy afterwards.

For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.

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