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Health official brings hog-farm skills to bear in flu battle

Tom Jackson • Aug 12, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Huron County health commissioner Tom Hollinger knows what it's like to pass the night sleeping in a hammock near the pigs one is exhibiting in the county fair.

With decades of experience in the pig business, the former hog farmer will be busy in the next few days, combining his duties as a health official with his expertise in swine.

Health officials in Ohio are battling an outbreak of pig-related flu.

Huron County's fair, which will include pig shows, starts Sunday. Beginning today, Hollinger will be at the Huron County fairgrounds, inspecting pigs for signs of illness.

The state health department announced Friday that 36 cases of the H3N2 flu virus have been confirmed in Ohio, up from 30 on Wednesday.

It appears all 36 people became sick after being exposed to swine. The people who became sick are residents of Butler, Clark, Gallia, Greene, Hamilton, Medina, Monroe and Morrow counties. Health officials are urging everyone to wash their hands with soap and water before and after exposure to animals.

Cuyahoga County has excluded pigs from its county fair, which began this week, but hogs are permitted at the fairs in Erie and Huron counties.

"The big thing to remember is this is a very mild flu," Hollinger said. "I'm not overly concerned about the situation."

Asked how he feels about Cuyahoga County's pig ban, he said, "Everyone has to make their own decision."

Hollinger told his health board, which met Thursday at the health department, that he'll be inspecting the hogs at the fair every day, assisted by Dr. Michael Mull, of Bellevue, a veterinarian who specializes in swine.

He said he's confident he remembers what a pig in respiratory distress sounds like.

"I've been around hogs all my life," said Hollinger, 55, who lives near Willard.

He told the board that exhibitors have been asked not to sleep in hammocks near their hogs.

That may seem odd, but it's a common practice, he said.

"I slept in hammocks above my kids in the fair. My kids slept in hammocks above their pigs at the fair," he said.

Hollinger, who has worked at the health department for seven years, was formerly a purebred hog breeder who sold his animals all over the U.S.

He said he got out after corporate farming began to dominate the hog business.

"There are very few independent hog farmers anymore," he said.

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