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Swine flu warning won't change Fair procedures

CENTRAL POINT — Jackson County Fair officials are scratching their heads at the state's recommendation that pigs and people be kept apart to prevent the spread of swine flu.

State veterinarian Don Hansen said the concern is not that people will catch the flu from the pigs — it's that the pigs might catch the virus from people.

The state Department of Agriculture has issued a recommendation that fairgoers and pigs stay at least 6 feet apart. The agency also recommends maintaining hand-washing stations.

Not all counties agree with the state's recommendations. At the recent Marion County Fair, organizers kept to the status quo and emphasized hygiene over barricades. Nothing will be changing about how people and the pigs mingle at the Jackson County Fair either, said Manager Chris Borovansky.

"I'm a little surprised at the state's recommendations," Borovansky said.

Fair board member and livestock expert John Dimick said he has never heard of a human-to-pig transfer of the H1N1 virus.

"I've had my finger on the pulse of the agricultural world for decades," said Dimick, an Eagle Point cattle rancher who taught agriculture at Crater and Phoenix high schools for 32 years. "I think this is a non-issue. I'm sort of seeing this as much ado about nothing."

The fair hogs are headed for slaughter, not a breeding program, he said.

The "vast, vast majority of these pigs are terminal," Dimick said, "The market hogs are sold Wednesday night and processed Thursday morning. If they're sick, they're not going to have time to know it."

Jackson County has been a "leader in the industry" in terms of animal husbandry, Borovansky said.

Safeguards against the spread of bacterial or viral infection, such as hand-washing stations and bedding designed to prevent airborne illness, have been in place for years, he said.

"We've been very proactive," Borovansky said.

The pigs are hand-raised by local youth, rather than in feedlots.

At the fairgrounds, the swine are kept in sturdy metal pens, he said.

"These are very hardy animals," Borovansky said.

But a bristly-haired, 275-pound hog is not the type of creature that most folks would want to snuggle up against, he added.

"They're not like the lambs," he said.

Just to be safe, Borovansky has a request for those who plan on visiting the swine barn during next week's fair.

"Please don't sneeze on the pigs," he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.