Tips for staying healthy at the fair this summer

(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of segment that aired this morning, July 5.) 

Idaho fairs and festivals are starting across the state, which is exciting because they offer some of the best fun of the summer! But they also offer up some health challenges, which we hope you’ll keep in mind when you and your family head off to the fairgrounds. So today we’re going to talk about some things you can do to stay safe and healthy, especially when you’re visiting the animal exhibits or munching on the food.

Let’s start with animal exhibits. What should we know about those?

It’s important to keep in mind that seemingly healthy animals can sometimes carry germs that might make us sick. Small children should be supervised at all times in animal exhibits. They shouldn’t be allowed to put their hands or objects (such as pacifiers) in their mouths after interacting with the animals and before washing up. Simply washing hands as well as anything else that falls on the ground after being in the animal barns or the petting zoo will go a long way toward protecting yourself and your family from diseases spread by animals. You should also be aware that even animals at the fair can bite, kick, and scratch, so approach them with care to avoid getting hurt. 

Are there germs we should be aware of in the animal exhibits?  

Salmonella and E. coli are probably the most common germs people can pick up from animals, particularly in petting zoos. After the kids pet and feed the animals, make sure they wash their hands with soap and water when they’re done or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if hand-washing isn’t an option. Another risk we watch carefully is a form of the influenza virus that has been associated with pigs at fairs. It’s called the H3N2v flu virus. It’s another reason to wash your hands thoroughly, especially after you stroll through the pig barn. If you have age or health factors that put you at high risk for serious flu complications, or you’re pregnant, you should avoid the pig barn.

So how about the food? Fair food is notoriously bad for you, but it’s so delicious!

Nutritional value aside, the most important thing you can do is wash your hands with soap and water before you eat. Adults should always help small children wash their hands to be sure they do a thorough job. It’s also a good idea to carry hand sanitizer or disposable wipes, just in case washing stations aren’t handy. Another food for thought — food and drinks can get contaminated while walking through the animal exhibits, so don’t carry any food into those areas. It’s fun to eat at festivals and fairs, just be aware of your surroundings and do your part to make sure your food is safe to eat.

What happens if we do become sick after attending a fair or festival?

Anytime you think that you may have gotten a foodborne illness, you should report it to your local public health district. You can find contact information for the Idaho public health districts at www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov. If you get sick after attending the fair, you should consider talking to your doctor.

Anything else?

Remember your sunscreen and a hat with a brim so you don’t get sunburned standing in line for the rides, drink plenty of water, and have fun!

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