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Hands up! It’s time to come clean

New hand sanitizer dispensers are mounted in every animal barn at the Clark County Fair this year, more than 150 in all. Abundant signs posted in two languages warn visitors to leave food and drink outside barns, and to use the gel upon exiting.

Another 12 wash stations with 24 sinks, soap and towels were installed across the fairgrounds. And in every bathroom and near many food stalls are friendly reminding visitors to do what mommas have always scolded: Wash your hands before eating.

There’s a concerted effort by fair leaders nationwide to lead a hand-washing campaign.

"We just want to create an awareness. Part of the obligation of a county fair is teaching people," said fair Manager Tom Musser. "And we’re seeing them used, by golly."

Last August, three persons who attended the Clark County Fair were sickened by confirmed cases of E. coli, a life-threatening bacteria that can cause kidney failure. While the origin could not be confirmed, clues pointed to animal exhibits. Similar outbreaks of virulent nausea, vomiting and diarrhea have struck fairs in other cities and states, the culprit just as easily human-borne as animal-borne.

270,000 visitors could pass through the fair this week, providing plenty of risky contact. When the state Agriculture Department floated an $8,000 matching grant to install the extra sinks and signs, Clark County officials quickly ponied up an equal amount.

Also returning from a brief absence is the Germ City education booth operated by the Washington State University Extension Service. Special lotion is doled out by volunteers who said a proper cleaning requires: soap, best rubbed into hands before rinsing starts to scrub off dirt; a long 20 seconds of scrubbing (children are told to sing "Happy Birthday" or their "A-B-Cs"); and preferably, a towel wipe. After washing, visitors can check their hands under a special light to see if they did a good job of washing them.

"We’ve gone two and three generations away from the farm now, so a lot of people don’t have knowledge of what they’re supposed to do around animals," Musser said. "It’s just an extremely smart idea to wash your hands."

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