Martin Svrcek, executive director of the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, said safety is his most important priority for the fair.
"As our urbanized society has moved farther from farms, many folks who are city dwellers have not developed the same kind of immunities that farmers or people who have been around farms have," Svrcek said.
Although swine flu has not been widespread in humans this year — the CDC reports 29 confirmed cases in the United States since August 2011 — health and fair officials recommend that people avoid touching pigs. Typically, pigs contract the virus in their intestines and throats and can pass it easily.
Swine flu symptoms are similar to regular flu symptoms, including fever, coughing and sneezing.
Animals being showcased on fairgrounds have to make the cut before they can be certified for exhibition. In Maryland, such animals must have a veterinary inspection 30 days before the fair, and in some cases they must undergo other testing. Owners also have to sign a self-certification verifying that the animals are not infected. Representatives of the state Department of Agriculture's Animal Health Division and veterinarians are typically on-site during fairs to conduct spot inspections and make sure animals are not infected.
John Kozenski, president for the Anne Arundel County Fair, said he has been watching news of the swine flu cases closely but is more worried about the possibility of people contracting E. coli. Although fairgoers are not supposed to touch the animals in their pens, it is often possible to reach them, and people do.
"When you're doing things with the public, it's hard to get them not to touch to the animals," Kozenski said. "We try to make sure they don't get near the animal waste product."
He also said the jam-packed summer fair schedule can contribute to animal illnesses. Moving stock from barns to fairgrounds means different sources of water, which can affect animals' stomachs and expose them to illness.
"We all watch what's happening, where disease outbreaks happen, and we pray they don't mutate into something else on our fairgrounds," Kozenski said.