Don't Bring Surprises Home From the Fair

Author: Dr. Susan Kerr

Publish Date: Summer 2013

Authored by Dr. Susan Kerr, WSU NW Washington Regional Livestock and Dairy Extension Specialist

The National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials (NASAHO) and National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) created a Swine Exhibitions Zoonotic Influenza Working Group in part to develop recommendations to reduce the transmission of influenza virus at swine exhibitions. Their recommendations consider transmission between animals as well as transmission to and from swine and humans.

The primary mission of animal exhibitions and fairs has always been education. With less than two percent of the U.S. population directly involved with feeding the nation, fewer and fewer members of the public have any direct contact with or knowledge of how food gets to our tables. Animal exhibitions can help bridge this knowledge gap and improve connections between producers and consumers. However, the last several years have witnessed noteworthy zoonotic disease incidents at fairs and other public venues. For example, three different Influenza A strains have been associated with swine shows in recent years; in 2012 alone, 309 human cases of Influenza A strain H3N2v were reported in 12 states and most were traced back to contact with swine.


  • Poor appetite
  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Exhibitions”. It is divided into recommendations for swine and humans before, during, and after exhibitions. The document is summarized in this article; the complete document is available at It is an excellent resource for livestock producers, exhibition managers, veterinarians, public health officials, and anyone else interested in reducing the risk of disease transmission at animal exhibitions.

Before an Exhibition

Have a veterinarian perform health checks on animals before they are admitted to the event.

Limit the time pigs are congregated at an exhibition to less than three days and release them from the grounds ASAP after their classes or exhibition. Separate and schedule terminal shows after breeding shows and disinfect between. Similarly, reduce risk by locating longer-term displays (e.g. birthing exhibits) away from swine in competition. Learn signs of Influenza A and other illnesses; consult a veterinarian and remove sick swine immediately. Keep accurate records on exhibited animals and farms or origin, which will facilitate traceback and communication if a disease outbreak needs to be investigated. Work with a veterinarian to develop effective biosecurity protocols on the farm and at shows, including vaccinating for relevant diseases, disinfecting premises and equipment, and isolating show animals for at least a week after return from an exhibition.

Annual influenza vaccination is recommended for people over six months old. As an additional precaution, those with an elevated risk of influenza complications (elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with long-term health issues) should avoid direct contact with at-risk swine. If ill, do not attend public exhibitions and avoid contact with swine. Do not eat, drink, smoke, use pacifiers or push strollers in areas that house animals.

During an Exhibition

Monitor animals for signs of illness and consult with a veterinarian if animals appear ill. Communicate with exhibitors about all aspects of disease monitoring and reporting protocols. Ensure adequate and convenient hand washing stations. Post signs reminding people to wash hands after contacting animals, after using the bathroom, and before eating. Post signs that prohibit eating, drinking, smoking, using pacifiers, and pushing strollers in animal areas. Notify public health officials if people become ill at the exhibition; individuals feeling ill should refrain from visiting livestock areas and seek medical care.

After an Exhibition

Clean and disinfect exhibition areas, equipment, footwear, clothing, and vehicles. Isolate and monitor animals taken home for signs of illness for at least one week; contact a veterinarian if animals show signs of illness. Contact a health professional if humans become ill after attending a swine or other livestock exhibition. If ill, avoid contact with other humans and livestock, especially swine.

Additional Considerations and Concerns

The above recommendations for brief and separate shows within an exhibition could be difficult for some fairs to enact; requiring breeding animals to show and go home before market animals are brought in could impart hardships on rural families with large distances to travel multiple times. A possible compromise would be to allow simultaneous shows but increase the distance between where the two designations of animals are housed and implement strong biosecurity practices between them.

At some exhibition locations, veterinarians are not always available to examine animals during the check-in process; in such cases, it is essential that exhibition staff and volunteers are knowledgeable about the signs of contagious illness in livestock and know what to do if such signs are seen. Such animals should be sent home or at least isolated until they can be examined by a veterinarian. A veterinarian should be available for consultation throughout the exhibition to monitor animal health and make appropriate recommendations if sick animals are detected.

Foot traffic is a major source of cross-contamination of feed with manure-borne pathogens. The public should be prevented from accessing livestock feeding areas and exhibitors should receive training on minimizing cross-contamination via feet, manure-handling equipment, and feeding equipment. Equipment should not be shared between exhibitors and should be cleaned and disinfected frequently.

Proper ventilation is another crucial aspect of keeping animals healthy during an exhibition. A veterinarian should be consulted regarding how to house animals and direct airflow to reduce the risk of disease transmission between individuals and among species.

Exhibitors of non-terminal animals should do more than just isolate animals brought home from a show for a week. For optimal biosecurity in this elevated-risk situation, producers who exhibit livestock should manage two separate herds—a show herd and a home herd; this is particularly important for swine. Separate housing, equipment, footwear and clothing should be used for each herd and detailed protocols must be established and followed by all caretakers to reduce the risk of disease transmission.


Animal exhibitions are very popular with the public and are an excellent opportunity to educate attendees about modern agricultural practices. Whenever people congregate, however, the risk of disease transmission is increased; additional diseases enter the picture when people and livestock interact. As is true with most situations, 100% of risk can never be eliminated, but careful planning and abiding by recommended disease control protocols should help ensure the only thing people take home from livestock exhibitions is happy memories.