RALEIGH — Visitors to livestock shows at the 2012 N.C. State Fair will see changes in pedestrian and animal traffic patterns that are designed to further minimize health risks.
The measures were recommended by a multi-agency group set up by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler after 25 visitors to the 2011 fair were sickened by E. coli O157:H7, a type of bacteria sometimes present in the feces of cows, sheep and goats. More than 1 million people attended the fair. A state public health investigation determined the illnesses were associated with the Kelley Building, which housed sheep, goats and pigs competing in the fair’s livestock shows.
The State Fair Study Commission recommended changes aimed at keeping people and competition livestock separated as much as is practical without prohibiting people from seeing animals. The new traffic patterns primarily will affect buildings where livestock are housed or shown – the Kelley Building, Jim Graham Building and Expo Center – and the area around them. The recommendations included changing the location of animals within buildings and how animals and people enter and exit buildings.
In addition, food vendors are being relocated from the area between the Graham Building and Expo Center. Instructional signs at animal exhibits will be larger, and hand-washing stations will have nighttime lighting and more signs to increase visibility.
“The changes put forth by the Study Commission are a practical and effective way to further reduce the potential for disease transmission – both animal-to-human and human-to-animal,” Troxler said. “They build upon protective measures already in place, and they reduce risks while maintaining the fair’s agricultural heritage.”
The fair is investing an estimated $206,000 in these changes and related projects. The money will come from State Fair revenues.
“While there is no way to completely eliminate the potential for exposure, the measures being implemented will minimize the risk,” said Dr. Megan Davies, state epidemiologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health. “We also want to encourage the public to do their part as well by following traffic patterns at the fair and using common sense measures to keep themselves and their families healthy.”
Wake County Community Health Director Sue Lynn Ledford, a member of the study commission, said State Fair visitors can help themselves stay healthy by:
Leaving strollers outside buildings containing animals.
Following instructions on signs indicating animals that should not be touched.
Using the hand-washing stations located throughout the fairgrounds.
Helping children wash their hands well at the appropriate times.
“While hand sanitizers and hand wipes are easy to use, washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and drying them with clean paper towels is the best way to prevent the spread of germs that cause illness,” Ledford said. “Washing hands before you eat, every time you eat, greatly reduces the spread of disease. This is particularly important after visiting animal exhibits or being in direct contact with animals.”
The commission’s report is available online at www.ncagr.gov. Click on “Newsroom.”
The 2012 N.C. State Fair is scheduled for Oct. 11-21 at the State Fairgrounds.
About the State Fair Study Commission
The 15-member State Fair Study Commission consisted of public health professionals, veterinarians, livestock exhibitors, State Fair staff and representatives of N.C. Cooperative Extension and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The group was chaired by David Smith, chief deputy commissioner of the department.