The end of August is bitter sweet. On the sweet side, it marks the anniversary my husband and I started dating and got married and it marks the month we moved from a high-risk pregnancy to a “you’re good to go” pregnancy. On the bitter side, it marks the end of summer, the return of cool nights and for children the return to school. It also marks the start of Fall Fair season!
Growing up on a farm, Fall Fairs were where you got to show off your prized animal (in my case a purebred Hereford named Patience). She was aptly named as it took all my patience to teach her to lead on a line, stand quietly to be judged and to stop dragging me through the manure pile. I was a horse girl, so Fall Fairs were also high season for competition – hunter, equitation and jumping were my events. My boy Wally, known in the show world as “The Other Man” was a bit fickle. We had our good days and our bad days. In hindsight, I should have named him “The Only Man” seeing as he was the reason for much of my teenage drama and losses of boyfriends. If I had a show, you could be sure that I would cancel a date to go ride and groom my horse.
Fall Fairs are a great time for people to learn where our food comes from and to get to touch and feel different animals, learn their sounds and their smells, and for some unsuspecting child or adult it may also mark the first time you got nipped, bit or kicked it because you wrongly thought that all animals were pets. Fall Fairs are also a time of food poisoning and catching a zoonotic disease such as Salmonella or influenza. Because Fall Fairs result in the mixing of humans and animals, it is important that we all take steps to protect ourselves from picking up a zoonotic disease. Whenever there is a human and animal interface, we need to recognize the risks that come with it. Promoting simple things like good hand hygiene habits and ensuring there is adequate access to hand washing stations or hand sanitizers can go a long way to protecting people. But it’s not just about our protection, animals can be susceptible as well, so we need biosecurity measures in place to prevent animals getting sick because we traipsed something in to their area on our shoes.
In fact, a study recently published in Emerging Infectious Disease looked at how novel viruses can evolve in an agricultural fair setting highlighting how quickly influenza and other potential diseases can spread from pigs to humans. The study looked at samples from 161 pigs from 7 different fairs. They found that for 6 of the 7 fairs, 77.5% of the pigs were infected with Influenza A. Interestingly only 2 of the fairs showed extensive influenza-like illness among the pigs meaning subclinical infections with influenza pose a potential public health threat. Influenza viruses can jump from humans to pigs and back to humans. Biosecurity measures at Fall Fairs and the need to conduct surveillance within the pig population is an important method for detecting novel influenza A viruses that threaten swine and human health alike.
Don’t let this stop you from attending these fun events. There is much to see and do, and of course eat! If you happen to attend any in Southwestern Ontario you may come across my niece! She’s gone the “western” route meaning she runs barrels, poles and flags, but I still love her even if she picked the wrong events!