The South Carolina State Fair has canceled most of its fowl and bird competitions for the 2015 fair.
Fair officials said the decision followed discussions with state health officials and is a precautionary step against the Avian Influenza virus, commonly called bird flu. But they stressed there had been no outbreaks of the virus at past fairs.
Exhibitors were informed of the change on Friday and fair officials said they wanted to make the public aware before this year’s fair, which runs Oct. 14-25.
“The fair is a place where lots of things come together,” said State Fair manager Gary Goodman. “We just want to put people at ease.”
Avian influenza is an infectious viral disease of birds. The current strain has been found mostly in the Midwest and has not been detected in any state along the East Coast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk of infections on humans to be low, but some strains have caused serious infections in people.
But Goodman said the more practical concern is preventing transmission among animals during the fair.
Since December, The United State Department of Agriculture has confirmed several cases of avian influenza in the Pacific, Central, and Mississippi flyways (or migratory bird paths). And while there have been no cases in the south, Goodman said several fairs across the country have taken similar precautionary measures.
“It’s something the fair industry is taking very seriously and this is the proper response,” he said.
The changes mean there will be no more chickens, peasants, bantams, peacocks, turkeys, geese and ducks in the Small Stock exhibit area near the cattle barn. But the exhibit still will feature doves and pigeons, which are not affected by the virus.
And fans of the popular baby ducks on the slide need not worry. The ducks – also not susceptible to the virus because of their breeding and transport process – will return.
“That’s one bit of tradition fair visitors won’t have to do without,” said state fair assistant manager, Nancy Smith.
The rabbits and cavies (of the guinea pig family) normally on exhibit also will remain.
The fair plans to make the most of the changes and will offer several educational materials related to domestic birds and Avian flu. The Small Stock building will feature materials and talk sessions on the virus, its economic impact and related issues. The fair also plans to offer tips on how to safely set up a chicken cop at home.
“We want to help people know what precautions to take and give them some of the basic facts about Avian flu,” Smith said. “And this is information they can take with them when they leave the fair.”
Goodman said while the risks of any problems were low, the fair believes the changes were taken out of an abundance of caution and are in the best interest of public.
“It’s just not worth it to do it, if something were to happen,” he said.