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Farm shows on alert for swine flu; none found in Pennsylvania

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Grace Swope, 9, of Adams, Butler County, spends some time with her Blue Cross pigs Daisy, front, and Daffy, rear, at the Butler Farm Show Friday, August 10,. 2012. She and her family make sure that the pigs have their full set of shots and all the needed vet checks. Grace shows her pigs in the 4-H program. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
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An inquisitive Bluebutt pig at the Butler Farm Show Friday, August 10, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

A new, milder strain of swine flu is sweeping through Indiana and Ohio, though not Pennsylvania, according to the state Health Department.

But with a number of farm shows and county fairs scheduled during the next few weeks with hundreds of pigs, organizers said they’re taking precautions to ensure the flu won’t hit Western Pennsylvania.

“I wouldn’t worry, but I would be concerned,” said Frank Skacel, a veterinarian and board member for the nine-day Westmoreland Fair that begins Friday. “The bottom line is, it’s been proven that with simple hygiene, you can prevent this from happening.”

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention said the new strain, milder than the one that hit the United States in 2009, has made about 160 people sick within the last couple of weeks. It added that most cases are tied to pigs, but some resulted from one person passing it to another, though the virus seems to run its course before it reaches the second person.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said no new cases of swine flu have been reported in the state this year. Last year, three children contracted the flu after attending the Washington County Fair, but quickly recovered.

The Westmoreland Fair and Butler Farm Show take similar precautions, according to their organizers. Animals must be examined by a veterinarian before a show, and exhibitors must show paperwork that their animals are free of the virus.

When the animals are delivered to the shows, they are examined in their trailers. If they look sick, they’re sent home. Also, a state veterinarian checks the animals during the shows, which could include taking temperatures or blood samples.

Butler Farm Show officials said a state veterinarian took random samples from some of their pigs last week and didn’t find anything.

The facilities also have hand sanitizers, along with many signs urging people to wash their hands and take other precautions.

At the Butler County Farm Show, which ended Saturday, some who brought pigs for 4-H exhibitions said they had little to worry about.

“The 4-H clubs teach kids what to do, how to keep things clean, and what to look for,” said Ryan Swope, of Adams, Butler County, whose daughter Grace, 9, displayed pigs Daisy and Daffy Friday.

Exhibitors said they were satisfied sick animals would be turned away.

“When you have someone with a cold, you don’t want them going to school and getting the rest of the school sick,” said Matt Drobezko, 18, of West Liberty, who displayed pigs Diva and Gaga.

Skacel said a handful of animals are sent home from the Westmoreland Fair each year because of respiratory or intestinal problems, but he couldn’t remember a pig contracting swine flu. He said pigs that contract the virus are usually destroyed.

“These are prize animals. Trust me, if there’s something wrong with them, you hear about it.

If the exhibitors think there’s a problem, we check them out and see what we can do,” Skacel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621. or [email protected].

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